World Nuclear Association Blog

Banking on Nuclear

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The nuclear industry needs to satisfy the multi-criteria approach to risk that banks take when they decide whether to invest in a large infrastructure project. Only then, can it expect to attract this form of financing to nuclear new build projects, writes Ron Cameron on the latest WNN Editorial article.

Specifically,says Cameron, banks look for long-term certainty on price, stable government policy, industry reputation, regulatory certainty, the process for addressing planning and environmental issues and public acceptance, in addition to the economics of the project.

Cameron argues that European wholesale electricity markets are currently not favourable to nuclear power, however. That, he says, is because the role of nuclear in offsetting the negative effect on price of feed-in tariffs and grid priorities for renewable forms of energy is not adequately recognised. The cost to the system of having intermittency of supply is often borne by the nuclear plants through their role in providing back-up generating capacity or otherwise by the consumer through higher electricity prices, subsidies or taxes. With no level playing field for nuclear in liberalised electricity markets, there is a real difficulty in seeing where nuclear new build is going to come from in Europe, without government action. Cameron thinks that there is a need to explicitly recognise the advantages that nuclear power provides to stabilise these markets long term, to support the move to a low carbon economy and to help with security of supply.

Read more on WNN: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/E-Banking-on-nuclear-1808201401.html

European Crunch Time

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With the average age of European Union (EU) nuclear plants now at around 30 years, bringing enough new capacity online to match that lost through the closure of old nuclear plants will present a major challenge, writes Stephen Tarlton.

Currently, 131 nuclear power reactors with a combined capacity of around 122 GWe operate in 14 EU member states. This accounts for over one-quarter of the electricity generated across all of the EU's 28 member states. Half of the EU's nuclear electricity is produced in only one country, namely France.

But with the French government planning to cap nuclear capacity at its current level of around 63 GWe, along with the politically-motivated decisions by two member states (Germany and Belgium) to exit nuclear power over the next decade, a decline in EU capacity up to around 2030 is all but inevitable.

In order to reverse this expected short-term decline, the new generation of nuclear reactor designs needs to be firmly established in the EU. Today, nuclear plant construction is underway in only three EU member states - Finland, France and Slovakia (although the reactors under construction in Slovakia are Russian VVER-440 units, a design that is unlikely to be built again). Beyond these units, the countries that are most likely to have additional new nuclear units in operation by 2030 are Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. Though less likely, further new units by 2030 might also be seen in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.

According to a new report titled New Nuclear in Europe - 2030 Outlook by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the outcome of the nuclear projects in these 13 countries - but especially the two EPRs currently under construction in Finland and France, along with the planned new reactors in Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the United Kingdom - will determine whether the expected short-term decline in the EU's nuclear industry will be reversed.

Read more on WNN Analysis


New nuclear power source for space probes

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 Tim Tinsley NNL
Tim Tinsley, National Nuclear Laboratory

In a new feature article on World Nuclear News scientist Tim Tinsley, from the UK's National Nuclear Laboratory describes the work being carried out to develop a new nuclear power source that will help explore the outer reaches of the solar system. Most space probes are powered either by solar panels or by radioisotope power sources. Solar panels work well in the inner solar system, although the solar-powered Mars rovers have to curtail activities over-night and during Mars winters due to a lack of power. Radioisotope power sources, that use radioactive decay heat to generate electricity provide a more reliable source of power, allowing the Mars Curiosity rover to travel further and work longer, and probes like Voyager, Cassini and the New Horizons probe currently speeding to Pluto to explore the outer reaches of our solar system and interstellar space.

However, supplies of the main isotope used - Pu-238 - are running short. The work being done at NNL would extract americium-241 from plutonium separated from used nuclear fuel. Although the Am-241 produces less power per unit weight than Pu-238, the separation process would be far less expensive. 

It also strikes that Am-241 also has a longer half-life than Pu-238, meaning Am-241 power sources should last longer. Voyager 2 launched in 1977. Although its power source has lasted an impressive 37 years already, the gradual decay of its Pu-238 power source, with a half-life of 87.7 years means that the probe will no longer be able to operate beyond 2020. An Am-241 source would have a half life of 432 years, meaning the fall in output from a Am-241 RPS would be much slower, potentially allowing probes to operate for much longer.

Onagawa: The NPP that withstood the tsunami

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A fascinating brochure has been published outlining the story of the Onagawa nuclear power plant and how it withstood the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. It is available here.

The report reviews the differences between what happened at Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima Daini and Onagawa. 

Onagawa faced a stronger earthquake and tsunami of similar height to Fukushima Daiichi, at around 13m. The earthquake disrupted external power supplies, but with a combination of one remaining external power line and six of the eight diesel generators the plants shut down and cooling systems started as planned - in fact Unit 2 was in the process of starting up as the earthquake struck and reached cold shutdown a few minutes later.     

When the tsunami struck the damage caused to Onagawa was much less severe than at Fukushima Daiichi and Daini, because the Onagawa plant had been built at a height of 14.8m, higher than the tsunami waves. There was some disruption to unit 2 cooling, but all reactors achieved cold shutdown as planned.

The preparedness and efforts of staff at Onagawa were recognised when they were presented with a WANO (World Association of Nuclear Excellence) Award for Nuclear Excellence.

 Onagawa WANO 
Onagawa staff whose combined efforts earned them a WANO Nuclear Excellence Award 

Perhaps even more remarkable is how the Onagawa nuclear plant became a place of refuge for people from the area surrounding the plant, where many had died, and even more had been made homeless.

On March 11, 1,500 people working at the site were stranded, without any reports how their friends and family outside the plant had fared. From the devastated surrounding area 50 people sought shelter at the plant. Eventually the site would become a refuge for 364 people from the local community.

 Onagawa Refugees  

Local refugees offered shelter in Onagawa gymnasium

The article shows how robust nuclear power plants are when back up power supplies and flood defences are properly in place. Since the accident at Fukushima 'stress tests' have been carried out at reactors around the world to ensure that plants are sufficiently prepared. Even at Onagawa defences have been strengthened even more.

 

IPCC call for low carbon energy action

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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

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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

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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

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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.