Archive for August, 2016

Working together to achieve Nuclear progress

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 31st, 2016

Earlier in the year, Weinberg Next Nuclear reported on the exciting GAIN initiative that the Obama administration launched to support nuclear progress in the USA. The companies chosen were X-energy and Southern Nuclear Operating Company. X-energy is working in a partnership to develop its Xe-100 pebble bed high temperature gas-cooled reactor whilst Southern’s partnership is pursuing the Molten Chloride Fast Reactor.

In August, these two companies announced that they will work together to further their projects. They have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on development and commercialization of their respective advanced reactor designs.

As World Nuclear News reported, X-energy said its collaboration with Southern aims “to make available an additional nuclear solution that supports the global clean energy movement.” The X-energy CEO Kam Ghaffarian added, “We are thrilled to have Southern Nuclear involved in our project. I founded X-energy in 2009 out of a desire to make a significant and lasting contribution to clean energy generation in the US and around the world. This relationship firmly puts us on that path.”

Southern Nuclear chairman, president and CEO Stephen Kuczynski said, “Our relationship with X-energy builds upon the DOE awards we each received and puts the industry on a strong path to providing clean and safe nuclear enrgy for generations to come.” He added, “We understand fully the time and manpower it will take to bring the first advanced reactor to market and feel confident that pursuing this goal together will best leverage our combined research and commercial operation experience to do so.”

This partnership in the USA is a great step in the right direction and should help to realize the promise of an advanced nuclear future. However the future of nuclear power in the USA is in doubt with the upcoming election. Although Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton is an advocate of the “all of the above” approach of the Obama administration to tackle climate change, Republican candidate Donald Trump is a climate denier. Whilst Clinton has said “rapidly shutting down our nation’s nuclear power fleet puts ideology ahead of science and would make it harder and costlier to build a clean energy future”, Trump has said he supports nuclear power but favors gas, and now focuses more on promoting a coal regeneration. Energy is not a key debating issue in the US election, but there is potential for significant change based on the outcome, so it must be hoped US energy policy continues to be progressive and pro-nuclear innovation.

Being pro-nuclear does not undermine climate and energy goals

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 26th, 2016

By Stephen Tindale and Suzanna Hinson

“EU member states with pro-nuclear policies risk undermining Europe’s 2020 Strategy on climate and energy goals, an academic study has found.”

Maxine Perella: “Pro-nuclear EU countries ‘slower to tackle GHGs or boost renewables’ – study.” ENDS Europe, 24 August 2016

The study referred to is “Nuclear energy and path dependence in Europe’s ‘Energy union’: coherence or continued divergence?” by Andrew Lawrence, Benjamin Sovacool and Andrew Stirling, from the University of Sussex and the Vienna School of International Relations.[1]

The authors consider data from all European countries. They divide them into three main categories: always anti-nuclear (13 countries); now anti-nuclear (7); pro-nuclear (8). The headline conclusions are that:

– The always-anti countries have reduced their emissions by an average of 6% since 2005, and had increased renewable energy sources to 26%.

– The now-anti countries reduced emissions on average by 11% while expanding renewables to 19%.

– In pro-nuclear countries, greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 2005 by an average of 3%, and only 16% of energy is from renewables.

– On the basis of these figures, the authors conclude:”[The] intensities of national commitment to nuclear power tend to be inversely related to degrees of success in achieving EU climate policy goals.”

The study was published in the journal Climate Policy, so will have been peer reviewed. It deserves to be taken seriously – and has already been widely discussed. However, the authors’ conclusions are, in our view, based on two significant mistakes:

– The categories of pro- and anti-nuclear are too broad and do not compare like with like;

– Reduction of greenhouse gases and promotion of renewable energy are presented together as a single objective. They are not.

The authors group countries together into always anti-nuclear, now anti-nuclear and pro-nuclear. To be in the ‘now anti-‘ category, a country’s government must have a policy to decommission existing nuclear power stations and not allow replacements. Germany clearly belongs in this category. Does Sweden, which the authors also place there? In 1980 Swedes voted in a referendum to phase out nuclear power, though no timetable was set. Since then Swedish policy on nuclear has been, to use the diplomatic word used by the World Nuclear Association, “ambivalent”.[2] In 2010, at the behest of a centre-right government, the Swedish parliament lifted the ban on new nuclear construction. In 2014 the Green Party entered a centre-left coalition, so new nuclear was off the political agenda for a while. But on 10 June this year (so shortly after the publication of the Climate Policy article) the government lifted its moratorium on nuclear new build, and also reduced the tax on nuclear. Sweden is not, therefore, an anti-nuclear country.

The countries which the authors do place in their pro-nuclear category are Finland, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the UK: countries with very different economic and political circumstances. We do not believe that it makes analytical sense to compare western European countries – established democracies with strong economies – with ex-communist central and eastern European ones. And the existing energy mix is also a determining factor in a country’s attitude to climate action. The reason the Polish government opposes strong greenhouse gas reduction targets is not because it wants to build a nuclear power station; it is because Polish society and economy are currently so dependent on coal.

If one narrows the category to western European countries, how do pro-and anti-nuclear countries compare? In terms of greenhouse gas reductions since 2005, the figures given in the Climate Policy article are:

Country Authors’ category Greenhouse gas reduction since 2005
Denmark Always anti -20%
Ireland Always anti -20%
Austria Always anti -16%
Finland Pro -16%
Netherlands Now anti -16%
Belgium Now anti -15%
France Pro -14%
Germany Now anti -14%
UK Pro -14%
Italy Always anti -13%
Spain Now anti -10%
Sweden Now anti -10%

 

Denmark and Ireland, the countries that have reduced emissions most since 2005, have always been anti-nuclear. But two examples do not constitute a proven link. Beyond these two, the figures do not establish correlation, let alone causation. In joint second on -16% are one country from each of the three categories. Anti-nuclear Germany and pro-nuclear Britain and France have each reduced emissions by 14% since 2005.

Performance on renewable energy

The authors then consider how well countries are performing on renewable energy. They mention the drawbacks of some renewable energy technologies, including large hydro and bioenergy, but nevertheless present single figures, covering all renewables, for each country. Bioenergy and nuclear can be used anywhere, but other renewables, especially hydro, are geographically dependent.

The figures for western European countries are given below. Again, there is no correlation between attitude to nuclear and performance on renewables.

Country Category Percentage of energy from renewables (2013)
Sweden Now anti (according to authors) 52%
Finland Pro 37%
Austria Always anti 33%
Denmark Always anti 27%
France Pro 14%
Germany Now anti 12.5%
UK Pro 5%
Netherlands Now anti 4.5%

 

Sweden get about 40% of its electricity from hydro; Finland 18%. Finland got 16% of electricity from bioenergy in 2013, Sweden 6%. Both countries also use bioenergy extensively for heating.[3] They have strong criteria for minimising the biodiversity impact of biomass, but not for assessing the carbon footprint. EU rules on the carbon footprint of bioenergy apply only to biofuels, not to biomass. Bioenergy is necessary, particularly for heating and for transport. But not all bioenergy expansion is desirable. Being renewable is not the same as being good for the climate. Similarly, large-scale hydro, has some severe consequences to habitats, erosion and hydrology meaning though it is good for the climate, it is not necessarily good for the environment.

Are renewables better than nuclear?

Does it matter whether greenhouse gas reductions are achieved through expansion of renewables, or through other measures? It does not matter to the global climate. In our view, the scale of the climate crisis is such that we need rapidly to move beyond arguments about which low-carbon technology to support and accepted that all are required. (Our next report will be on this issue.) But the way in which emissions are reduced appears to matter to the Climate Policy authors. Professor Andy Stirling, said about his report: “By suppressing better ways to meet climate goals, evidence suggests entrenched commitments to nuclear power may actually be counterproductive.”[4]

Academics should always define their terms. So we have a question for Professor Sterling: better in what sense?

 

[1] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2016.1179616

[2] http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-o-s/sweden.aspx

[3] https://www.iea.org/countries/membercountries/

[4] http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/36547

Russia leading the way in advanced nuclear power

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 15th, 2016

To effectively mitigate the climate threat, the world needs more nuclear power. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, UN Sustainable Solutions Network and the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate have all argued for a doubling or even trebling of nuclear energy to address climate change.[1]

Progress towards that expansion in many places has been sluggish; with big, old reactors meaning that neither the necessary quantity, nor the best possible quality of reactors is being developed.

However, Russia has just announced an ambitious target that will, if delivered, represent a significant step towards the necessary nuclear development. On the 9th of August, a Russian government decree has indicated country plans to build eleven new reactors by 2030. This does not include the seven reactors that Russia currently has under construction. In fact, Russia plans to have one new, large reactor come online every year until 2025.

As well as increasing quantity, Russia is endeavoring to improve the quality of the reactors. Among the 11 planned reactors are two sodium-cooled fast neutron (SFR) reactors.

The SFR is the most developed in the fast neutron spectrum, with successful projects and constructions across eight countries. Low-pressure liquid sodium is used to cool the core, and a very wide variety of fuel can be used, including waste from other nuclear reactors. The SFR uses a closed fuel cycle, where all the waste products are converted into more useful fuel or inert products, which eliminates the problem of nuclear waste.[2]

As advanced, 4th generation designs, these reactors could be cheaper, even cleaner and even safer. Russia already has an advanced reactor operating, the BN-600 fast breeder reactor at Beloyarsk has been supplying electricity to the grid since 1981 and has the best operating and production record of all Russia’s nuclear power units. An updated BN-800 fast reactor at Beloyarsk was connected to the grid in December last year and is expected to be increased to full capacity in the coming days.
This commitment to not only an increasing, but also an increasingly advanced nuclear fleet should be a model for the rest of the world. To mitigate climate change, it is essential that others follow.

[1] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg3/, Presentation, slides 32-33; International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2014, p. 396; UN Sustainable Solutions Network, “Pathways to Deep Decarbonization” (July 2014), at page 33; Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, “Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report” (September 2014), Figure 5 at page 26.
[2] http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/why-nuclear-is-needed-final-23-Nov.pdf

Don’t worry: British nuclear doesn’t have all its eggs in one basket

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 11th, 2016

Hinkley Point may be taking all the attention at present, but it is not the be all and end all of nuclear power in the UK. There is plenty more in the pipeline so, whatever happens in Somerset, progress can be made elsewhere. The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation aims to complete Generic Design Assessments for new reactors, the AP1000 and Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), during 2017.

NuGen, jointly owned by Japan’s Toshiba and France’s Engie, is progressing with plans to build an AP1000 at Moorside in West Cumbria. At present, they are carrying out site assessment surveys, including geophysical surveys, geological age dating and some borehole drilling work, which must be completed before construction can begin. AP1000 reactors, designed by Westinghouse, are being planned in multiple countries worldwide, with the first plants scheduled to come online in China this year. There have been some delays on these world-first reactors, but not as serious as those in France and Finland for the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) proposed for Hinkley.

Horizon, owned by Hitachi, are also continuing with their plans for an ABWR at Wylfa on Anglesey. Site development work is progressing, with plans to begin construction in 2018/9 and start generation in the mid 2020s. A total of four ABWRs have been constructed, all in Japan, and all completed on time and on budget. Following Fukushima, all nuclear plants were shut down and no ABWRs have yet re-opened, but three are being reviewed for re-opening and having nearby seismic faults assessed. Japan also had two ABWRs under construction before Fukushima. Work was suspended but has since re-started on both sites.

These two projects are independent of Hinkley and should continue regardless of its fate. According to the Telegraph, a source close to the Horizon venture said “we know the government wants and needs nuclear to happen. All the questions over Hinkley, we’ve got answers to.” Neither of these reactors are currently reliant on Chinese finance. The Chinese investment is one speculated reason for the delay at Hinkley, with human rights and security both voiced as concerns. Additionally, neither of these projects are using a controversial EPR design, which has experienced delays and over-spends elsewhere.

In addition to these planned sites, there is also ongoing research and development into the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors. The Government promised, in Autumn 2015, an investment of £250 million over 5 years to develop the reactors of the future. This includes a competition to decide which small modular reactor or reactors should be demonstrated in the UK. Advanced reactors have the potential to be cheaper, even cleaner and even safer than current designs, and have added benefits such as the potential ability to use up spent fuel and the plutonium stockpile. (Weinberg Next Nuclear will soon be publishing a report on how to manage plutonium).

It is very important that the Government continues the advanced reactor programme and keeps nuclear as a priority in the UK’s clean energy mix. This will ensure the UK can benefit from safe, secure and sustainable nuclear energy for many years to come, regardless of decisions on Hinkley.

New York goes pro Nuclear

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 2nd, 2016

In March we were happy to report that nuclear power was gaining acceptance as a clean energy source, specifically in New York. Now there is more good news as the New York State’s Public Service Commission voted yesterday to adopt the New York State Clean Energy Standard, advocating both renewables and nuclear. The overall aim is to increase renewables to provide 50-percent of electricity by 2030, whilst also retaining the state’s six nuclear plants which currently produce 30-percent of electricity.

The plan involves paying subsidies to the upstate nuclear power plants to ensure they keep operating. Nuclear power is struggling at a time of low prices for power and gas but is essential to meet decarbonisation targets and improve air quality. A statement from Governor Cuomo’s office said, “a growing number of climate scientists have warned that if these nuclear plants were to abruptly close, carbon emissions in New York will increase by more than 31 million metric tons during the next two years, resulting in public health and other societal costs of at least $1.4 billion.”

These clear benefits of retaining nuclear were argued by Rob DiFrancesco, director of New York AREA who said “New Yorkers win because they keep abundant, clean sources of power that generate billions of dollars in annual economic activity in the state, while preserving emission free nuclear power plants that help the state meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”. Although this controversial plan has received much opposition, Eric Meyer, organizing director for Environmental Progress said it appears there are far more in favour than against.

An all of the above energy strategy, combining both renewables and nuclear, as well as storage, interconnection, CCS and efficiency investments, is the best way forward not just for New York, but for everyone. Our next report will be advocating a Clean Energy Consortium in the UK and hopefully many more will soon be following in New York’s progressive footsteps.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/08/01/why-new-york-state-just-delivered-extremely-good-news-to-the-nuclear-industry/?utm_term=.7c8204d55522

© The Alvin Weinberg Foundation 2014
The Alvin Weinberg Foundation is a registered UK charity. Charity number: 1155255
The Alvin Weinberg Foundation web site uses cookies to record visitor patterns.
Read our data protection policy

Design by Tauri-tec Ltd and the Alvin Weinberg Foundation