Archive for January, 2016

Hinkley point and the nuclear debate

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on January 28th, 2016

On Wednesday, the news arrived that a decision on constructing a European Pressurised reactor at Hinkley point has been delayed, again. The board of EDF was supposed to meet to make a final decision, but the meeting was delayed due to further concerns over funding.

The delay was debated on Newsnight by the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Sir Ed Davey and Green peer Jenny Jones. Baroness Jones argued that Hinkley would be the most expensive power plant on earth and nuclear is not a solution but a problem. Ed Davey countered that nuclear is cheaper than lots of renewables and very good value if compared with the cost of the pollution from gas and coal.

With the news of today, it is understandable for nuclear’s credentials to be called into debate. However, it is important to note that Hinkley is not the whole of the UK’s nuclear programme. There are two other large nuclear reactor proposals undergoing regulatory assessment: an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) at Wylfa and an AP1000 at Moorside. In addition, there are many academic research programmes ongoing across the country, with new developments soon to follow the Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement in November of £250 million R&D funding for small modular reactors and advanced nuclear. Thus even if Hinkley continues to be delayed, nuclear can still make progress.

It is also important to remember why nuclear should be pursued. Weinberg Next Nuclear’s recent report argued the necessity for nuclear as part of a portfolio of low-carbon energy technologies. The presenter on Newsnight, Evan Davis, picked holes in Jenny Jones’s anti-nuclear plan, asking about providing all current electricity without nuclear as well as heat and automobiles and criticising her ideas to run the UK on food waste and to continue the use of gas (a fossil fuel). As Ed Davey said, “if you are concerned about climate change, you should not take a low carbon energy off the table”.

The policy editor of Newsnight Chris Cook, had said in a film before the discussion that there are three key objectives of UK energy policy. The first is to make sure there is enough electricity to meet demand, even if demand increases as it is expected to do in the coming decades. The second is to decarbonise the energy sector and the third is to achieve the first two objectives without unnecessarily increasing bills. To do this, we need a diverse supply of low-carbon energy, an “all of the above” approach or as Ed Davey said, “all low carbon options on the table”.

Weinberg Next Nuclear do not believe that nuclear should be pursued at any cost. An EPR at Hinkley may or may not be a good investment but if the expected price continues to rise, it is probably not a good investment. But that is not a reason to oppose all types of nuclear reactors. The ABWR and AP1000 are more straightforward reactor designs, so would be cheaper to construct and Generation IV reactors and Small Modular Reactors will very probably be cheaper still. Thus there are many other options to pursue, and they need to be pursued in order to contribute to a sustainable, low carbon future.

Introducing Priya Aggarwal

Posted by Stephen Tindale on January 27th, 2016

We are delighted to welcome Priya Aggarwal, our newest member of the team, working from India.

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Photo: Katherine Chapman, Priya Aggarwal, Stephen Tindale and Suzanna Hinson

 

“I am Priya Aggarwal and I am delighted to be joining Weinberg as an Assistant Technology Officer (Intern) from this week. I got interested in the foundation because of their optimistic approach towards molten salt technology in nuclear reactors and the endeavours to act as a link between research groups and general public. I hope to continue with their style of providing information to the interested people and make useful contributions.

“Living and studying in India, a nation with keen interest and need to develop Thorium technology, I will be writing about the advanced reactors utilising this fuel and the impact of their progress on developing economies. Various other applications of reactors like desalination of water, hydrogen production, etc. will also be touched on.

“Asia is currently a key area in advanced reactors R&D with India and China making considerable progress in Fast Breeder and Molten Salt technology, respectively. Being a student of nuclear technology, I look forward to this learning experience which will certainly make me much more aware of developments across the world and to providing information to the best of my knowledge.”

Nuclear GAINs in the USA

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on January 22nd, 2016

In November 2015, the US department of energy launched GAIN (the gateway for accelerated innovation in nuclear). The aim is “to provide the nuclear community with access to the technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move new or advanced nuclear reactor designs toward commercialization while ensuring the continued safe, reliable, and economic operation of the existing nuclear fleet.​”

Now the first initiative of GAIN has been launched: $80 million for development of advanced nuclear reactors. Specifically, the focus of the funding will be on the Xe-energy’s Xe-100 Pebble Bed Advanced Reactor and Southern Company Services’ Molten Chloride Fast Reactor. The two companies will each receive $6 million over a number of years.

The Xe-100 pebble bed high temperature gas-cooled reactor design builds on earlier DOE investment in Triso (tristructural-isotropic) fuel technology. The DOE states its selection for funding was based on its advanced safety features as well as its smaller size than conventional reactors meaning it could safely serve a variety of communities including densely populated areas. X-energy said that the funding would focus on technology development, including core modelling, fuel fabrication and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) “outreach”.

The Southern Company Services’ Molten Chloride Fast Reactor draws on the experiments of Alvin Weinberg and his team in the 1960s. The key advantages of the technology relative to other advanced reactors are the potential enhanced operational performance, safety, security and economics. Due to their advantages molten salt reactors are under development globally but the USA research specifically focuses on performing integrated effects tests and materials suitability studies to support reactor development.

Both projects represent significant partnerships of academia and industry. X-energy is working in partnership with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Southern Company Services is developing their reactor in partnership with TerraPower, Electric Power Research Institute, Vanderbilt University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Nuclear power is a critical energy source that provides almost 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, and over 60 percent of the nation’s carbon free electricity. However as Weinberg Next Nuclear reported in 2015, the US nuclear industry is currently in danger of withering. Therefore this new investment is vital for nuclear in the USA and globally. As Thomas Fanning, the Southern Company CEO argues, “nuclear energy’s importance will continue to grow as the USA transitions to a low-carbon energy future [and] this collaborative research effort will help accelerate the development of next generation nuclear reactors”.

“Is Nuclear Energy part of the solution [in the fight against climate change]?

“Answer: Yes, it is part of the solution…. There is far too much tribalism in the energy and climate debate between different technologies ” – Stephen Tindale

 

Speaking at the COP 21 seminar, organised by Nuclear for Climate, entitled “Is Nuclear Energy part of the Solution in the fight against Climate Change?”, Stephen warned against making enemies of advocates renewable energies because all these technologies are needed for a sustainable future.

He went on to talk about the potential benefits of advanced nuclear technologies like fast reactors, molten salt reactors and small modular reactors.

Also speaking at this event was Energy For Humanity Director Kirsty Gogan, Australian Environmental Consultant Ben Heard, Finnish ecomodernist Rauli Partanen and IPCC member and Climatologist Francois-Marie Bréon.

Chaired by Valerie Faudon, the Director of the Nuclear for Climate campaign, discussion lively and attended by over 200 people.

Click here to watch the full video. Stephen talks about energy tribalism at 30 minutes.

Stephen has previously spoken for Nuclear for Climate on what role Nuclear should play in a sustainable energy future. Click here to see that video.

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