Archive for November, 2015

Small Modular Reactors in Osborne’s Spending Review

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on November 25th, 2015

Today, the much awaited spending review was announced. Following Amber Rudd’s speech last week on UK energy policy, it was no surprise that Chancellor George Osborne also mentioned nuclear and, more specifically, Small Modular Reactors.

He said,

“ we’re doubling our spending on energy research with a major commitment to small modular nuclear reactors”

It has also been announced that there will be a competition launched next year to select the best Small Modular Reactor design.

Many are encouraged by this support for nuclear, including Fiona Reilly of PwC who said it was “welcome news and an important development for the country’s energy mix”.

In addition to nuclear, Osborne also committed to more than doubling support for low-carbon electricity and renewables and supporting the creation of the shale gas industry by ensuring that communities benefit from a Shale Wealth Fund, worth up to £1bn and funded from shale tax revenue.

Small modular reactors should be supported as they could mean a more rapid expansion of nuclear power with all the associated benefits of improved air quality and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. They might be a way to revolutionise low-carbon energy by providing a quicker, cheaper and greener supply – though we cannot be sure until some are built.

However, it is important not to be too selective with technologies and we would also recommend that some of the money promised to nuclear research and development should go to demonstration of other technologies such as Molten Salt Reactors as recommended in our latest publication.

Weinberg Next Nuclear welcomes the Chancellor’s support for low-carbon energy. It is good to see a diverse range of technologies being encouraged including renewables as well as support for exciting nuclear developments. However, in total, DECC’s day-to-day resource budget will fall by 22 per cent. The areas suffering from these cuts, according to The Guardian, are energy efficiency schemes and green heating systems but there is also the possibility that the support for renewables is more words than reality. The aim of the cuts is to minimize consumer bills but there is concern that this makes it less likely that the UK will meet its climate change targets and thus there is still significant room for improvement in UK energy policy.

Why nuclear innovation is needed

Posted by Stephen Tindale on November 23rd, 2015

Chancellor George Osborne should announce in this week’s Comprehensive Spending Review that the government will fund prototype demonstrations of advanced nuclear reactors. Existing nuclear reactors are already safe and low-carbon, so some more should be built. Future reactors could be even safer and even lower carbon, so prototypes should be constructed.

The advantages of next-generation nuclear power are outlined in a new report; Why nuclear innovation is needed, from Weinberg Next Nuclear, the UK charity promoting nuclear power. These advantages include:

  • They can use liquid fuel, so the core cannot melt down;
  • They can re-use the spent fuel – which still contains over 90% of the energy that was in the original uranium;
  • Advanced reactors could reduce the amount of nuclear waste which has to be managed by future generations (and which already exists so cannot be wished away) by around 95%;
  • They can use plutonium as fuel. The UK has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world;
  • They can be built as small modules and then assembled on site to reach the scale desired. So they can be installed where the heat could be used as well as the power.

Safety is inherent to the design of next-generation reactors, rather than being a costly add-on. ‘Small Modular Reactors’ can be built on a production line, reducing construction costs. So advanced reactors are likely to be cheaper to build than existing ones – though this will not be known for certain until one has been built and operated.

Energy and Climate Secretary Amber Rudd said in her ‘reset’ speech last week: Let’s be honest with ourselves, we don’t have all the answers to decarbonisation today. We must develop technologies that are both cheap and green. This means unleashing innovation.” She is right. Innovation is needed in renewable energy and carbon capture and storage, but also in nuclear energy.

George Osborne has a great opportunity on Wednesday to begin the delivery of the Government’s reset energy and climate plan. He can show that the UK is a world leader, not only in phasing out coal but also in developing clean alternatives. We led the industrial revolution; now we must lead the post-industrial revolution.

Stephen Tindale, Director, Weinberg Next Nuclear, 07941 433780

American nuclear is withering – what can Congress do?

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on November 23rd, 2015

Nuclear must be a part of a greener future but America is losing its nuclear edge says Robert Bryce, author of the recent report “Reactors unplugged: can the decline of america’s nuclear sector be stopped?”. The decline of reactors in the States has accelerated this year with Entergy Corp announcing they would close their 838-megawatt Oswego Plant by early 2017 and their 688-megawatt Plymouth plant by 2019 with a total decline of about 10% of the entire nuclear fleet expected over the next few years. There are a variety of reasons for this including ageing plants (average reactor is 34 years), costly post-Fukushima safety upgrades and pressure from the low price of gas generation.

But the decline of existing nuclear is juxta posed with huge innovation in the next-generation nuclear sector in the US. Unfortunately the companies of this advanced nuclear sector are in desperate need of turning theory into reality and need some support and an ability to test their designs. Here the government could help by allowing the use of their national laboratories (including Oak Ridge where Weinberg himself worked) for testing and advancing the next-generation of reactors.

Some progress has been made towards supporting these companies. In May, the House passed a bill that directs the Department of Energy to assess its ability to help test and develop next-generation reactors. This week, supporters are hoping for one step further as the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act will be introduced directing the Department of Energy to actively partner with private companies to test and even build prototype reactors at the national labs. Hopefully these Acts will be the first step in the state of the American nuclear industry turning from withering, to thriving.

Hitachi-GE’s improvement on the Boiling Water Reactor has progressed to the final stage of the UKs regulatory process. The office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) announced the completion of Step 3 of the Generic Design Assessment on 30 October, with the whole assessment scheduled to finish in 2017.

Step three focuses on the safety and security of the ABWR and requires Hitachi GE to present arguments and evidence to support their safety and security claims. The assessment is designed to be extremely rigorous and continues to assess the safety of every aspect of the design throughout its process.

The fourth and final phase of the process includes a detailed assessment of the design as well is further scrutiny of the safety and security. The environmental impact of the reactor will also be assessed, with a consultation with the Environment Agency (EA) and National Resources Wales (NRW).

A completed Generic Design Assessment must be coupled with a nuclear site license and regulatory approval for the construction of the reactor before a new nuclear power station can be built. Horizon Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd, plans to build two ABWR is in the UK; in Wylfa Newydd on the Isle of Anglesey and Oldbury-on-Severn in South Gloucestershire.

This milestone in the regulatory process for an updated reactor design is a step in the right direction for building new and improved nuclear power reactors in the UK, and possibly paves the way for the next generation of advanced reactors to follow in the ABWR’s footsteps.

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