World Nuclear Association Blog

IPCC call for low carbon energy action

(Communications) Permanent link

When the third report from the IPCC, on mitigation of climate change, was published on Sunday the world's media focussed on its key messages - greenhouse emissions are rising, the threat of climate change is getting stronger, serious and radical international action is required, but we can still avoid the worse effects of climate change if we take action now and for the long term.  

But what was released on Sunday was just the "Summary for Policymakers", a 30-odd page negotiated skim of the actual report, which contains more a thousand pages of carefully referenced scientific assessment.

The conclusions of the full IPCC report are clear, the energy supply system is the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and more action in this sector is required now. The IPCC report says around 80% of our electricity must be supplied by low carbon sources such as nuclear, renewables and CCS by 2050 and to eliminate polluting coal, oil and gas generation by the end of the century.

IPCC Gases

The IPCC concludes that no single mitigation option in the energy supply sector will be sufficient to hold the increase in global average temperature change below 2°C above pre‐industrial levels. Embracing all options will give us the greatest chance of avoiding the harmful effects of climate change in the most cost-effective way.

Nuclear energy is recognised as having some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions for each unit of electricity generated, even when the full lifecycle emissions are included. Average emissions from nuclear are 12 grams of CO2 per kWh, compared to 11 gCO2/kWh for onshore wind, 12gCO2/kWh for offshore wind, 24 gCO2/kWh for hydro and 28-47 gCO2/kWh for solar. Biomass has no direct emissions, but infrastructure and supply chain emissions averaged a significant 230gCO2/kWh. Emissions for gas and coal averaged 490 and 920 gCO2/kWh respectively. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) helped reduce fossil fuel emissions, but even with CCS fossil fuel emissions were between 160-220 gCO2/kWh.

For uranium resources, the IPCC report notes that if all conventional uranium occurrences are considered there would be enough uranium to meet current levels of demand for 250 years. Closing the nuclear fuel cycle with reprocessing and recycling of fuel through fast reactors could extend that by more than 50 times (to more than 12,500 years) and reduce the amount of waste generated and disposal required. Thorium too could extend the nuclear resource further.

Tackling climate change and weaning ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels for electricity generation can seem daunting. But as has been demonstrated by France, a commitment to nuclear energy, in partnership with renewables, can virtually eliminate fossil fuels from electricity generation in little more than two decades - and supply some of the lowest cost electricity in Europe.

Nuclear energy supplies low carbon electricity reliably and affordably. The world needs nuclear energy to tackle climate change.

2nd WNU Summer Institute Alumni Assembly

(WNU) Permanent link

 

Isis Leslie

The second WNU Summer Institute (WNU SI) Alumni Assembly, held from 31 March – 4 April 2014, was a great success. It was hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA and brought together Alumni from across the nine Summer Institute classes, with almost 70 representatives from 15 countries as diverse as China, India, Sweden, France, Brazil, Nigeria, Germany and Canada. We are really pleased that so many nuclear companies are continuing to invest in the young leaders in their companies.

The main aim of the Alumni Assembly is to continue the SI’s legacy of engaging the next generation of nuclear leaders from across the globe, providing a valuable opportunity to further solidify the global Alumni network of peers, and to build upon the foundations laid down at the SI. The programme addressed three main aims: professional development, leadership and peer-to-peer engagement. We heard from a number of great invited leaders, including US Assistant Secretaries Pete Lyons and Tom Countryman, Cameco Vice President Ken Seitz, US NRC Commissioner and appointed OECD/NEA DG William Magwood, Exelon CEO Amir Shakarami and Agneta Rising, WNA DG and WNU President. Presentations from Alumni were also excellent, and we were given some great information, including updates on the nuclear programmes in China, Finland and the UK, and new developments on waste management, safety, security and safeguards, training, research and public involvement in decision making process. 

WNU SI AA2

Participating Alumni had the opportunity to choose a topic of interest for in-depth professional development training over two full days. These were taken in small Groups and we were able to learn from experts from Oak Ridge and across the world. These focussed on research reactors and isotope production, safeguards and inspector training, safety culture and training on security for the technical community.

The programme was complimented by a range of technical visits including tours of High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), the ORNL supercomputer, the X-10 Graphite Reactor, Safeguards Laboratory and the Canberra Crystal Growing Facility. The Alumni also participated in a range of social activities, both informal and formal, and we were very pleased to be able to attend a reception hosted by the University of Tennessee at the UT Football Stadium, the 3rd largest college sports stadium in the USA. 
All these different elements allowed the participants to not only re-establish their relationships with those from their own SI year but also network with people from different years, consolidating and extending the network and creating a solid foundation for the future of the global nuclear industry. It was a motivating and inspiring event: 

- “The WNU SI was a transformative experience, and the Alumni Assembly allows one to sustain that tranformation over the years” ( Shehab (Sunny) G. Mustafa, Ontario Power Generation) 

We are looking at the possibilities to host the WNU Summer Institute Alumni Assembly 2016, with hopes to organize it in the Asia to encourage the participation of more Alumni from that region.The WNU and the participating Summer Institute Alumni would like to thank Oak Ridge National Laboratory for all their support and for allowing us access to their impressive facilities. Thank to those who supported the event through sending participants, speakers or sponsorship.

 

Lovelock says not using nuclear is 'quite mad'

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James LovelockJames Lovelock was interviewed on BBC's Newsnight on 2 April, covering a range of the many environmental issues where he's made an immense contribution, including the very future of humanity itself.

Addressing energy, Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman asked what had gone wrong about the perception of nuclear energy. Lovelock said that he wished he knew. He said nuclear energy was a "normal natural thing for the universe." and that our not using it was "quite mad."

Lovelock speculated one reason was that humanity had guilt about having first used nuclear in wartime, that prevented us using it as a "safe, clean and nearly perfect source of energy".

On other energy sources, Lovelock proclaimed himself as "fairly neutral" on gas fracking, although on potential impacts such as water course pollution he was worried. However, he thought countries like the UK may have no choice but to burn methane, in the absence of other available fuels, as he could imagine nothing was much worse environmentally than a sudden cessation of electricity supplies. 

The programme is available for UK viewers to watch again until 9 April at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0400593/newsnight-02042014

Binika Shah reflects on her new role at WNA

(Staff) Permanent link


Binika Shah joined the World Nuclear Association in February 2014 as a Senior Project Manager. She was recently interviewed by Radiation Regulator journal. Below is a section of the interview she gave to the journal.

Tell us about your career so far.

Binika ShahHaving been sponsored by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) during University, I graduated and was afforded a placement in their central environmental policy unit. Although unrelated to my academic qualification (having studied Mathematics and Physics at undergraduate level), I had always been passionate about environmental issues and took naturally to the challenge.

I followed this placement with a gap to go trotting around the world, and returned to land a contract with the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs in supporting the establishing of an agency (then known as the "Government Decontamination Service"). At the agency, I managed several Government-funded science and technology projects, looking to enhance the UK's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capabilities, as well as managing other technical information. This contract was followed by a post as an environmental consultant at an engineering consultancy firm called Atkins. The main focus of my work ended up being around legislation and policy development relating to radioactive substance management, with key projects being the revision of UK radioactive substance regulation, developing a scheme to demonstrate competence to the regulator in managing radioactive waste in the UK, and being the technical preparer for the 3rd Periodic Evaluation of Progress towards the Objective of the Radioactive Substances Strategy (in the North-East Atlantic Ocean). After several years at Atkins, I moved to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) in February 2014 as a Senior Project Manager.

What is the WNA and how does your role fit into their work?

WNA is a global organisation that promotes nuclear energy and supports the many companies that comprise the nuclear industry through the entirety of the fuel cycle (i.e. from uranium mining to decommissioning and de-licensing), together with its supply chain and associated industries. It provides a forum for sharing knowledge and insight into evolving industry developments, sharing international best practice to strengthen the nuclear industry's capabilities, and speaking authoritatively in relevant key international forums, such as the IAEA, OECD/NEA, ICRP, etc. that affect the policy and public environment in which the industry operates.

Many people may be familiar with the WNA website which provides lots of really useful information on nuclear energy - it is worth taking a look if you are unacquainted with it. Also, World Nuclear News has become the leading online news service on developments related to nuclear power, and its readership isn't limited to the nuclear industry. One final thing to mention is the World Nuclear University which provides training and education on key nuclear industry-related topics to the next generation of nuclear industry leaders

My primary role within WNA will be to support the radiological protection and the waste management & decommissioning working groups. These are essentially forums through which the industry shares leading good practice, conducts analysis, prepares position statements, and develops and implements strategies to advance collective interest in the safe and expanding worldwide use of nuclear power. The working groups are made up of representatives mainly from member organisations, and we often invite notable interested parties and relevant other organisations. I will also be attending international forums, such as relevant IAEA safety standards committees, to understand key developments, and to provide a voice for the industry in these areas.

What do you see as the greatest challenges ahead?

I would just like to focus on one area. The question in my mind is always around the waste, particularly when thinking about the sustainability of nuclear power. There are solutions out there, but the focus for industry often tends to be on the front-end as well as safety. In my opinion, the back-end of the fuel cycle is critical to the success  of a project. Many governments around the world have taken this on board, and are building into the regulatory systems the need to place due consideration on waste management and decommissioning during the early planning stages, but this is still not the case everywhere. Applying the waste hierarchy throughout the fuel cycle is crucial and the industry needs to take this on board.

How will you assess your success?

I'm not sure that I can make this into something that is "SMART" (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-framed), despite being titled a "project manager". I'd like to think that I will be supporting effective working groups that are thriving and doing some really good work to influence the industry and leading effective discussions with the wider international forum. For example, for radiological protection, this may be a system of radiological protection that can be applied by the industry in a logical manner and can be communicated to an external audience including public, decision-makers and media. For waste management and decommissioning, an example could be waste minimisation through effective and maximal recycling. 

How do you see the role of regulators?

The role of the regulator is critical to ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants across the world, and this should be done in an independent and transparent manner to ensure the credibility with the public, first and foremost. But this should not be done in such a way as to be detrimental to the industry; regulators need to work with the industry to ensure that standards are applied in a fair manner, and giving due consideration to social, economic and environmental impacts.

Does the UK’s Contract for Difference provide a level-playing field between nuclear and renewables?

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Greg Kaser
Senior Project Manager

 

Greg Kaser WNAThe European Commission is investigating whether the UK Government's proposals to support the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant is legitimate under European Union competition rules. Plenty of people think that EDF, the company standing behind the nuclear station, will be receiving a pretty generous subsidy to the detriment of alternatives. The Guardian newspaper (3 March 2014) quoted the chair of the UK and Ireland association of Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Councillor Mark Hackett, as saying that the project is "the most expensive" power plant in history and "could choke off the nascent renewable energy revolution in the UK [and] turning off investors in offshore wind and solar at a time when such industries are rapidly taking off elsewhere in Europe". Another critic, Peter Atherton of Liberium Capital, a London-based broker and corporate finance advisor, asserted in The Spectator magazine (22 February 2014) that the government "has agreed to buy electricity at twice the current market price … which looks like financial insanity".

This is also one of the possible concerns that the European Commission is examining. In a letter to the UK Government on 18 December 2013 the Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia indicated that it was not clear whether the Hinkley Point C project would "crowd out" other low-carbon technologies, such as biomass, hinder the import of electricity from the rest of Europe, and reduce the incentive to improve energy efficiency. 

The Commission's careful language, however, indicates that not all is what it appears. Firstly there is nothing in the UK Electricity Market Reform package that disadvantages renewable energy sources. Renewables are offered the same help as nuclear power: they are eligible for an infrastructure investment guarantee from the government and a Contract for Difference arrangement to help them finance their projects, whether it is the biomass conversion of the Drax coal-fired thermal power plant or for an off-shore wind turbine. The government published indicative 'strike prices' for renewable technologies in the range of £95 to £305 per megawatt hour in December 2013: <link>. It has also agreed a strike price for Hinkley Point C of £92.50/MWh, below that available to any of the low-carbon alternatives.  

Secondly, many people fail to appreciate that the strike price in a Contract for Difference (CfD) is not a guaranteed price for the electricity. A CfD is a bet between the generator (the punter) and its counterparty (a special government-sponsored enterprise) on the outcome of the competition to sell into the electricity market. If the outcome is a power price (the 'reference price') higher than the bet (the 'strike price') then the generator compensates the counterparty; if the power price turns out to be lower than the 'strike price', then the counterparty compensates the generator. This bet is linked to the sale of the electricity by the power generator. If Hinkley Point C fails to sell its power to the grid then it receives no revenue and no compensation (or penalty) from the CfD. Like any other generating plant Hinkley Point C will have to compete in an open market to sell its power. On a windy day it might not be able to beat the price offered by a wind turbine array in the Bristol Channel. In fact, and thirdly, the wind array has an additional advantage since renewable energy sources have priority access to the grid. If anything, the playing field is stacked against nuclear power in favour of renewable energy sources and there is no reason to suppose that competition between generators within the UK or abroad will be distorted as a result of the proposed strike price.

De-carbonizing the electricity system is not a cheap option but without a slice of nuclear power for the around-the-clock base-load generation the transition will be more expensive than it needs to be. If the government did not support alternatives to fossil fuels then greenhouse gas emissions would continue to grow, as the German electricity market demonstrates. The UK has a deregulated and unbundled energy market and the contract for difference is a way of persuading generating companies to invest in low-carbon technologies which otherwise would not make business sense while preserving competition between electricity suppliers.

Finding focus on electricity and the environment

(Web) Permanent link

Can debates over radioactive emissions from coal and nuclear or greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear and renewables distract from the real environmental impacts of electricity generation?

A lot of good discussion takes place on WNA's facebook page. If you use facebook, we'd be happy if you "liked" our page and join in.

On one particular exchange the debate was taking place in the light of the recent EU Energy and Climate Change plan, which creates more scope for nuclear energy to play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Understandably, the debate focussed on the different forms of environmental impacts caused by different generation sources.

It was suggested that nuclear proponents repeatedly claim that radiation exposure in the vicinity of coal fired power plants is much higher than for nuclear plants. WNA's own take on this is that this claim is often not correct, as generally the pollutants from coal fired power stations that contain the naturally occurring radioactive materials are retained - see our info paper on NORMs for more. However, other sources suggest it may be true that in some cases, for example this US Environmental Protection Agency self-assessment form suggests radiation exposure from living near coal power plants is more than three times higher than living near nuclear plants.

But this debate is a distraction. Radiation exposure levels from either coal or nuclear generation are at levels that are not harmful. Focussing on radiation exposure completely misses the point in terms of the most harmful environmental and health effects of electricity generation.

Debates of this kind are similar to those over whether wind, solar or nuclear have higher greenhouse gas emissions. Study after study has shown that, aside from exceptional cases, greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear and renewables are very low, and more importantly are much lower than for fossil fuels, as shown in a review of LCA studies WNA published a couple of years ago. It's like arguing whether an apple or an orange has more fat in it when the point is that you are having fruit instead of a packet of crisps.

Not that it is just greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels that can be harmful. In China alone, the smog-like pollution from coal power plants is thought to be responsible for a quarter of a million deaths a year  http://www.theguardian.com/.../china-coal-emissions-smog.... This is on top of any long term CO2 impacts. If you happen to be one of those who doubts the case for climate change then there are plenty of other reasons to still support a move away from fossil fuels, particularly coal.

No one should underestimate the effort required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels required. No single technology - be it nuclear, solar, wind or energy efficiency - is going to be enough. All will be needed, and for that reason no one low carbon technology should hamper the potential for growth of any other.

What is needed is a practical approach with an emphasis on energy diversity among low carbon options. Countries like Sweden and France have already shown that you can have a very secure low carbon generation sector with different mixes of renewables and nuclear. In contrast, Germany seems to be showing that cutting one option - nuclear - out of the mix means greater fossil fuel use.

WNU Summer Institute 2014 Applications

(WNU) Permanent link


The World Nuclear University Summer Institute is celebrating its tenth anniversary year and applications for the 2014 WNU SI are now invited, with the closing date being 31 January 2014.

The 2014 WNU Summer Institute will be held 5 July - 16 August 2014  at Christ Church College, Oxford, United Kingdom. The official announcement can be found  here  . Applications for IAEA supported places are no longer being accepted. However, Company - or self - funded applicants may submit their application up to the deadline of 31 January 2014. Please send the completed Application Form  with two recommendation letters to  wnu@world-nuclear-university.org and please ensure all required documents are included in a single e-mail.     

WNU SI applicants must provide evidence of meeting ALL the following requirements:   

  •  Master's degree in science, engineering, or business; or reactor operator's licence; or equivalent experience;    
  •  Several years of experience in government or the nuclear industry;    
  •  Knowledge of nuclear fundamentals;    
  •  Demonstrated academic or professional excellence;    
  •  Maximum age of 37, with exceptions to be considered on the basis of unusual merit; and   
  •  Proficiency in English, particularly oral communication, which is essential for effective participation in the WNU-SI programme.    

If you want to know more about the WNU SI please see this video.

 

 

WNA welcomes to Patricia Wieland

(Secretariat News) Permanent link

The WNA extends a warm welcome to Patricia Wieland, who will take on the post of Senior Project Manager for the World Nuclear University. Patricia brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to the WNA from her background at the Nuclear Institute of Engineering, part of the National Commission of Nuclear Energy in Brazil, and before that at the IAEA. We look forward to working with Patricia, and know that she will contribute a great deal to the development of the WNU.

Renewables down, fossil up in Germany

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The news last week that Germany once again has broken its own solar generation records sounded like good news for the environment. But behind the headline the broader picture for Energiewende is looking decidedly less rosy.

Renewable generation from solar and wind for the first seven months of 2013 is down on the same period last year, according to data from Franunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems.

Renewable Generation Jan-July 2013 Germany

Generation from solar is up 1.3 TWh, but this is more than countered by a 3.3 TWh drop in generation from wind, making an overall reduction in generation from these renewables of 2.0 TWh.

Not mentioned in the Fraunhofer data is the contribution of biomass. Considered by some environmentalists as a controversial energy source, biomass is a longstanding component of German electricity generation. Biomass generated about the same amount of electricity as wind in 2012, so a similar contribution is probable in the first seven months of 2013. 

Nuclear generation is up slightly on the same period last year. But the biggest changes are seen in fossil fuel generation. Gas generation is down a massive 5.6 TWh. Some of this fall is the consequence of increased solar generation. Gas tends to be used for peaking power, and to fill in the gaps when solar and wind aren't generating well. With more solar generation there is less space for gas in the generation mix.

Displacing fossil fuels with solar is good, but gas is the 'least worse' form of fossil generation, in terms of carbon emissions, and it is the only form of fossil generation showing a decline. Brown coal and hard coal, amongst the most polluting forms of generation, see a combined rise in output of 7.5 TWh, with brown coal being used for baseload demand and hard coal meeting a mix of baseload and peaking demand.

Nuclear still the leading ultra-low carbon generation source

It is worth bearing in mind, given the frequent articles on solar records being broken, as to what the current generation mix is in Germany. While coal dominates the generation mix, nuclear - despite the closure of some reactors in 2011 - remains the largest source of ultra-low carbon generation, generating more than twice the amount of electricity generated from either wind or solar - or for that matter gas.

Overall Output in Germany 2013

 

Over the rest of the year solar output will decline, so by the end of the year the output is likely to be only a tenth of its peak summer levels. Wind may fill the gap some of the time, but with more variability, with gas generation likely to increase to fill the remaining peaking demand (based on 2012 performance), leading to an overall increase in carbon emissions per unit of electricity produced.

Solar has been effective in displacing peaking generation from gas, but for constant baseload generation Germany relies on brown coal and nuclear. The reactors closed in a kneejerk decision in 2011 could have generated around 30 TWh of electricity between January to July, displacing brown coal and avoiding the emissions of around 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

 

 

All things being equal

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The EU is currently debating the issue of state aid to nuclear and other energy sources , with Germany opposing them. Among the many arguments in play one of the more questionable is that reported here by Greenpeace.

"The problem - for Germany - is that the plans would put new renewable technologies at a disadvantage by putting them on an equal footing with older, established technologies." (The older technologies presumably meant to include nuclear)

But exactly how much older is nuclear energy? The first artificial self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, at Chicago Pile-1,  took place in December 1942. The first electricity supplied to the grid from a nuclear power plant came from Obninsk, Russia in June 1954. The first commercial nuclear power plant was Calder Hall, England, which started operations in 1956.

In comparison, although primitive solar cells had been existence since the late 1800s, the first practical solar cell was demonstrated in 1954 at the New Jersey based Bell Laboratories located in Murray Hill. So the first practical solar cells date back to about the same time as when the first nuclear power plants were coming on line. 

For wind, while windmills have been used for centuries, the first wind turbine designed to generate electricity dates back to 1887, as built by Prof James Blyth in Glasgow, Scotland. A more substantial turbine was developed by Charles Brush in Cleveland, Ohio over the winter of 1887/8.

Electricity generation at central power stations only started in the early 1880s - initially using coal-fuelled steam engines or hydropower.

So it appears that, far from being younger technologies, wind and solar renewables have been in use for as long, or even longer than nuclear power and some are amongst the oldest forms of electricity generation. With that in mind, isn't putting all technologies on an "equal footing", as the Greenpeace article describes it, the fair thing to do?