Archive for September, 2015

Chinese nuclear on British shores

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on September 28th, 2015

A landmark agreement on increased nuclear co-operation between the UK and China is likely to be concluded next month, when President Xi Jinping visits London. In preparation, last week Chancellor George Osborne went to Beijing and announced that the British government will provide a £2 billion underwrite for Chinese investment in the proposed EPR at Hinkley C power station.

Weinberg Next Nuclear does not think that an EPR should be built – at Hinkley C or anywhere else – for reasons explained in our last blog. However, in return for the funding, the UK-China agreement is also expected to open the door for two Chinese state companies, China General Nuclear and China National Nuclear Corporation, to build a new nuclear power station at Bradwell in Essex. Weinberg Next Nuclear asked the Department for Energy and Climate Change what type of reactor this would be but they were unable to enlighten us further. However, some contacts have suggested that it is likely to be a Chinese version of the AP1000.

If this is correct, it does represent some progress. The AP1000 is not an advanced nuclear reactor but it is a superior design compared with the EPR. Nugen, a consortium between Toshiba and ENGIE (formerly GDF Suez), plans to build an AP1000 at Moorside, Cumbria. Another AP1000 would be a welcome addition to the UK’s generating capacity – and has much more chance of being built on time and on budget than an EPR does.



New nuclear is needed but Hinkley is not

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on September 21st, 2015

A seemingly positive message of hope for nuclear came from the East today, as Chancellor George Osborne announced from his tour of China that this “golden business relationship” had yielded £2billion pounds of UK tax-payer-guaranteed investment for the elusive Hinkley C power plant. Osborne said “Britain was the home to the very first civil nuclear power stations in the world and I am determined that we now lead the way again”.

But back in the West, and perhaps in reality, many have been questioning whether Hinkley C would actually be a positive development for Britain. Three prominent environmentalists, George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall, have written “yes, we are pro-nuclear, but not at any price”. Hinkley, they argue, is too high a price to pay. They point to the £24.5bn construction costs, the price guarantee of £92.50 per megawatt hour for the next 35 years, and the time and cost overruns experienced at the two other European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) in France and Finland. Hinkley, they say, should be scrapped.

Our Director Stephen Tindale has echoed these sentiments. He believes that the contract with EDF energy to build an EPR at Hinkley is reasonable, despite its high, costs, because the plant would provide 7% of UK electricity: carbon and air pollutant free. But this belief only holds if the new reactor were built on time and on budget – conditions that it is widely accepted Hinkley will fail to fulfill. Stephen told this morning’s Today Program that “there are many different types of reactor and the UK government has unfortunately chosen a bad one: the European Pressurized Reactor is impossible to build on time and on budget”. He continued that now there is an opportunity for Amber Rudd to say “this was a mistake and lets start again”.

A new start, and a genuinely positive development for the UK, would be for the government to stop wastefully ploughing time and money into the stagnant Hinkley project. There are a wealth of more advanced reactors that could potentially promise better safety, higher security, greater sustainability and importantly, lower costs. The government has funding, sites and support it could and should offer to make a prototype of one or many of these designs a reality – this is what the British nuclear industry should really hope for. Listen to Stephen’s BBC Today Programme interview here:

A Comprehensive Molten Salt Reactor Review

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on September 7th, 2015

Last year, an exciting development occurred for advanced nuclear power: Molten salt reactor (MSR) investigation won funding from the Technology Strategy Board. The Alvin Weinberg Foundation welcomed the development, writing “MSRs could be a game-changing way of producing clean electricity, so this is great news for all who support the revival of clean energy R&D to tackle climate change”. The bid was led by Jasper Tomlinson, Professor Trevor Griffiths, and project manager Rory O’Sullivan, who together planned to produce the UKs first rigorous study of the feasibility of a pilot-scale MSR. And the results are now in.

The review not only argues the necessity of nuclear power, but seeks to answer the questions of how to pursue it. Current nuclear deployment appears, the study states, to be locked into old solid-fuelled technology, with little innovation since the 1970s and even less development of advanced options such as MSRs. Previous reviews of MSRs, such as the Generation VI Forum January 2014 Report, have concluded that the technology is one of the furthest from commercial deployment. However much has been achieved in the MSR world in recent years, and taking into account the latest developments this publication concludes that the time is now right for a “commitment to an agenda to proceed with a molten salt reactor programme”. Six different reactor options were assessed in the MSR review:

  • Fibre Energy’s Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR),
  • Martingale’s ThorCon,
  • Moltex Energy’s Stable Salt Reactor
  • Seaborg Technologies – Seaborg Waste Burner
  • Terrestrial Energy’s Integral MSR
  • Transatomic Power Reactor

All six display the advantageous characteristics of using molten salt as fuel and coolant including safety, less waste, higher thermal efficiency, fuel cycle flexibility (including the ability to use up the plutonium stockpile as fuel) and co-generation opportunities afforded by the high temperatures at which the reactors operate. Despite finding advantages in all the reactor designs, the review concludes that The Stable Salt Reactor, the design proposed by Moltex Energy, is the best option to pursue. The Stable Salt Reactor is a fast spectrum pool type reactor but its unique characteristic compared with the other designs is that the fuel is static.

Most Molten Salt reactors involve the highly radioactive liquid being actively pumped through a heat exchanger while the Moltex design encases the radioactive molten salt (a fraction of spent nuclear fuel mixed with sodium chloride to reduce its melting point) within metal tubes, similar to the fuel rods in traditional reactors. The flow of molten salt in the tubes is entirely by natural convection with no moving parts involved meaning no possibility of pump failure. The pool of coolant is another molten salt that makes the reactor intrinsically safe since any leakage of radioactive fuel is mixed and diluted in the large pool of coolant. Unlike all other molten salt reactor designs, this design in not a derivative of the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (where MSR designs were initially developed in the 1960s) and is instead a truly 21st century design. Along with a whole host of benefits the Stable Salt Reactor is designed so that all components can be constructed in segments and assembled at any given site. This modular design is far simpler and more affordable than todays reactors and makes deployment all the more attractive.

The report concludes that this UK designed reactor, “due to its relative simplicity and relatively few and low technical hurdles, is the most suitable configuration for immediate pilot scale development in the UK”. Regardless of the specific reactor, the report also outlines the general advantages to the UK of pursuing an MSR program. Britain’s role as a leader in nuclear power has been declining since the 1970s with no new plant built since Sizewell-B in 1987. Currently, the UK has a non-existent nuclear R&D spend compared with other countries. However, the advantages of redeveloping our nuclear strength are many, including manufacturing growth, employment, energy security, reduced waste insecurity, positive contribution to carbon reduction targets, and technology export potential. With clear advantages, and a promising design to develop in the Stable Salt Reactor, it must be hoped the government, in the midst of scrapping subsidies and despairing over delays at Hinkley C, see the prosperity an MSR program could bring.  

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