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Significant nuclear-related news items in perspective. For previous items, see the Archive.

26 May 2017

Swiss referendum endorses energy policy with nuclear phase-out

The Swiss government’s Energy Strategy 2050, drafted following elections in December 2011 and much debated since, has been voted on in a national referendum. It was approved by a 58% majority, with voter turnout of 42%. It includes provision for a gradual withdrawal from nuclear power and a greater reliance on hydro and intermittent renewables.  Hydro currently supplies 60% of the country’s electricity, and generation from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources is to increase fourfold, from 2.8 TWh (4% of total) to at least 11.4 TWh by 2035. The policy allows subsidies for this expansion, and proposes building some gas-fired plants also with subsidies, and raising electricity tariffs.

No construction licences will be issued for new nuclear power reactors and no "basic changes" to existing nuclear power plants will be permitted. However, the country's five existing reactors, now providing one third of the country’s power, will be allowed to remain in operation as long as the federal nuclear safety inspectorate considers them safe. Following developments over 2011-15, in October 2016 the three utilities withdrew their applications for building new nuclear power plants.

In November 2016 a referendum brought by the Green party, proposed that nuclear plants be closed after a maximum 45 years in operation. This would have meant three of the five reactors closing in 2017 and the other two in 2024 and 2029.  It failed by about 54:46, with voters expressing confidence in both operators and the safety authority, despite a major anti-nuclear campaign. Opinion polls focused on nuclear power have shown more than 60% majority support in the last 15 years.
WNN 22/5/17.    Switzerland

Westinghouse upbeat about its future

The interim President and CEO of Westinghouse, speaking at an industry conference in USA, said that the company’s core business remains strong, and he expects it to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy stronger, better and more competitive.  He said that the US bankruptcy filing was a strategic move to "reset the financial footprint" of the company to address construction issues at two US projects with four AP1000 reactors under construction, while protecting the company's core business. 

The original US contracts were signed in 2008 and the company subsequently had to significantly redesign the reactors in response to new requirements from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission arising from the September 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2011 Fukushima accident. Also the company did not anticipate the challenges and issues associated with a resumption of nuclear new-build in the USA 30 years after the country's last reactor construction project. "A lack of appropriate infrastructure, knowledge and experience became a reality," he said, citing the challenges of rebuilding the supply chain.  This was exacerbated by the EPC contract relationship with Stone & Webster, which led to the 2015 strategic decision to buy that company from Chicago Bridge & Iron Company. Westinghouse parent Toshiba announced in December 2016 that it may have to write off "several billion" dollars because of Westinghouse's purchase of the construction firm. Westinghouse was now working with the owners of Vogtle and VC Summer plants to find a long-term solution to complete the reactors.

Westinghouse remains committed to its reactor design business and will pursue future sales, with a "more achievable delivery model" to reduce risk. Future projects would adopt an approach more like that used in China, where four AP1000s are under construction at Sanmen and Haiyang by China Nuclear Engineering & Construction Group (CNEC). Fuel loading is imminent on the first two of these.
WNN 25/5/17.   US NP

Other papers significantly updated in the WNA Information Library (see WNA web site): Molten salt reactors, MOX fuel, Russia NP, US fuel cycle

5, 12 & 19 May 2017

India reorients nuclear ambitions

The Indian Cabinet has announced approval of ten 700 MWe indigenous PHWR nuclear reactors, without locations or timeline, but as a “fully homegrown initiative” with likely manufacturing orders to Indian industry of about INR 700 billion ($11 billion). The Prime Minister said it would help transform the domestic nuclear industry, which appears to suggest deferred expectations of establishing new nuclear plants with Western technology from Areva, GEH, and Westinghouse. The announcement echoes the country’s XII plan for 2012-2017 which envisaged construction starts on eight 700 MWe indigenous PHWRs, as well as completion by now of five reactors under construction since 2011 or before. It also had construction starts on eight larger imported reactors, only the Russian two of which are nearly ready to go.  In the announcement no mention was made of the other elements of the XII plan – the Western reactors, and three indigenous advanced units. 

Disincentives arising from the 2010 Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act account for Western suppliers holding back their projects, Russian reactors being under grandfathered provisions predating the law. But there is also a slowdown in construction generally, apparently due both to financial constraints and to the reluctance of Indian supply chain companies to provide equipment without the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd giving indemnity under the 2010 law.
WNN 18/5/17.    India

Japan’s Takahama reactors restart

Kansai Electric Power Co has restarted its Takahama 4 reactor after more than a year idle due to a court injunction, and unit 3 is due to restart soon. Pending resolution of the district court injunction on both reactors, Kansai had removed the fuel from them. The Osaka High Court then lifted the injunction in March. The two 830 MWe (net) Takahama units were re-loaded in the last few weeks, unit 4 with four MOX fuel assemblies among its 157, and unit 3 including 24 MOX assemblies. Grid connection is expected in a few days.
WNN 17/5/17.   Japan NP

International joint venture synchrotron commissioned in Jordan

The new Synchrotron for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) has been commissioned at Allan in Jordan. This is the first synchrotron in the Middle East and will be used for advanced research projects by scientists from across the region. It is closely linked to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) and uses some components from the decommissioned BESSY I synchrotron in Germany. It was developed under the auspices of UNESCO with support from the IAEA, and is funded by $6 million annual contributions, from the joint venture's members of Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey. Construction began in 2004 with capital provided by the governments of Jordan, Israel, and Turkey, and by the European Union (through CERN and directly) and Italy.  Cost so far is $90 million, and further beamlines will be added progressively.

The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) has also commissioned its 5 MW Jordan research and training reactor (JRTR) at the Jordan University for Science & Technology. This started up last year and was subject to an IAEA peer review in December.  Its uses include production of medical radioisotopes and neutron activation analysis.
WNN 17/5/17.   Jordan

Other papers significantly updated in the WNA Information Library (see WNA web site): Reactor table, World U mine production, Canada’s uranium, Russia fuel cycle, China NP, USA NP, USA fuel cycle, MOX

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