Archive for March, 2017

Our response to the House of Lord’s nuclear inquiry now published

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on March 17th, 2017

The Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords are undertaking an inquiry on the priorities for nuclear research and technologies.

Our response has now been published online here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/nuclear-research-and-technologies/nuclear-research-and-technologies-publications/ or can be read below.

 

Weinberg Next Nuclear – Written evidence (PNT0045)

 

Weinberg Next Nuclear[1] is a charity promoting advanced nuclear technologies: fast reactors, molten salt reactors, small modular reactors. We therefore very much welcome this Committee enquiry.

Since the Committee’s 2011 report on the UK’s nuclear R&D capacity, Weinberg Next Nuclear has published two short reports on the need for the UK government to support nuclear innovation – financially and through public policy.

Our 2015 report Why Nuclear Innovation is Needed  (http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2015/11/23/why-nuclear-innovation-is-needed/) outlined the advantages of next-generation nuclear technology:

– 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. This could reduce construction costs. They could be installed where the heat could be used as well as the power.

We called on the then-Chancellor George Osborne to fund prototype demonstrations of advanced nuclear reactors. He did allocate £250 million to nuclear R&D in the 2015 Autumn Statement, and the Government launched the SMR competition.

In April 2016 we published a follow-up report Next Steps for Nuclear Innovation in the UK (http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2016/04/27/report-launch-next-steps-for-nuclear-in-the-uk/) This report:

– outlines criteria which government should use in selecting reactor designs to support (but does not say which designs should be chosen);

– recommends that at least one of the reactors supported should be a Generation IV design, because this could re-use spent nuclear fuel, and also use plutonium as fuel. The UK has the largest plutonium stockpile in the world;

– suggests that SMRs and micro-reactors (less than 20 megawatts) will be cheaper to construct than large reactors because they can be made on production lines then transported to site. Generation IV reactors may also be considerably cheaper than existing nuclear designs due to less complex designs – though this will not be known until one has been constructed;

– supports the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s proposal to increase its capacity by expanding staff numbers. Lack of regulatory capacity is currently the major barrier to nuclear innovation in the UK;

– proposes that UK nuclear regulators should work closely with their Canadian and US counterparts, with the aim of developing a regulatory approval mechanism that would cover all three countries.

Weinberg Next Nuclear believes that responsibility for ensuring that the UK has a coherent and consistent long term policy for civil nuclear activities lies firmly with the Government. The Government is not doing enough to fund research and development on SMRs, or on motivating others to do so. The results of the SMR competition need to be announced as soon as possible. The Government then needs to do more to fund research, development and demonstration of fast reactors and molten salt reactors.

 

Author: Stephen Tindale, Director

24 February 2017

 

 


[1] This is the operating name of the Alvin Weinberg Foundation.

ONR and NDA – Capacity should not be an excuse for inaction

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on March 16th, 2017

New nuclear power capacity in the UK is a challenge to construct. Hinkley Point C had been in the pipeline since 2008. It now has final approval, but will take many more years to build. The length and expense of getting new capacity from initial proposal, through the expensive regulatory assessment to construction is a daunting prospect for companies with new reactor designs and plans. 

The UK’s licencing and regulatory system needs to be better resourced and better connected. The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) undertakes a Generic Design Assessment, recognised globally as a leader in nuclear regulation. But ONR is limited in its capacity, able to do only two assessments at a time at present. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) manages the UK’s legacy of old reactors, spent fuel and – importantly – licensed nuclear sites.

The fact that regulation and siting are dealt with by different organisations lengthens delays, slows progress and increases costs, often with nuclear developers bounced between the two organisations. The disconnect between these two organisations and their separate priorities is also outdated. Increasingly, nuclear designs show potential to not only produce electricity and heat but also to recycle spend fuel as a resource rather than waste. To make progress on advanced reactors the two organisations need to work more closely together.

Both the ONR and NDA take their direction from the Government. With the Industrial Strategy highlighting that nuclear is a priority, the Government need to act. It should:

·      tell the NDA to release sites for demonstration of reactors;

·      tell ONR to begin Generic Design Assessment on two Generation IV designs.

The NDA has sufficient capacity to assess then release necessary sites. ONR’s lack of capacity has in the past been a block to nuclear innovation. Other countries’ nuclear regulators, notably the Canadian ones, have many more staff than ONR does (and are also more willing to begin dialogue with potential developers before the formal regulatory process begins). ONR now aims to increase its capacity, a welcome objective, that must now be delivered. Ministers must tell ONR to begin assessing advanced reactor designs to prevent them becoming a bottleneck for expansion. The increased capacity should also be used to allow greater cooperation between the two organisations.

With the exit from Euratom and competition from other countries, it is essential that the UK turns its policy support for nuclear into actual progress, or risk getting left behind in this key sector. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy must not use lack of ONR capacity as an excuse for inaction.

Advanced nuclear can support wind and solar

Posted by Stephen Tindale on March 9th, 2017

Last week I went to Amsterdam to speak at a seminar on ‘nuclear: the elephant in the room’. The Netherlands has only one operating nuclear power station, Borssele, providing about 4% of the power generated in the country. The Netherlands is very flat (and much of it below sea level) so hydro is not an option. This explains why the Netherlands currently gets only around 6.5% of its energy from renewables. The Dutch target under the EU Renewable Energy Directive is to get 14% of total energy from renewables by 2020. Major expansions of on- and offshore wind are underway. But where should the other 86% come from?

The Netherlands has substantial gas resources, so a lot of gas power stations. Gas is less bad for the climate than coal is, and an effective way to back up intermittent renewables such as wind. But gas without carbon capture and storage is not low carbon enough to be regarded as clean (as we argued in http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2017/01/23/new-report-the-case-for-a-clean-energy-alliance/).

The Dutch go to the polls on 15 March. None of the 28 parties standing in the general election is proposing a new nuclear power station. So the reference to the elephant in the room was appropriate.

The role that nuclear could play was well set out by Pier Stapersma of Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute for International Relations (https://www.clingendael.nl/). Pier pointed out that it is possible for nuclear reactors to ‘load follow’ – operate as back up to intermittent wind – and that smaller reactors can do this more efficiently than large reactors can.

Despite the lack of political engagement with nuclear issues, there is some important nuclear research underway in the Netherlands, notably into thorium molten salt reactors at the Delft University of Technology. The website states that “Sun and wind are intermittent energy sources, that require backup. Thorium MSR’s are excellent for providing this. MSR’s can ‘load follow’ automatically, by laws of nature. This means that if demand goes up, they produce more, if it goes down, they produce less.” (http://thmsr.nl/#/)

There is also research into thorium MSRs being done in Denmark, by Copenhagen Atomics (http://www.copenhagenatomics.com/). I met staff from Copenhagen Atomics at the seminar. Denmark has traditionally been anti-nuclear: the smiling sun Nuclear Power: no thanks logo was created in Denmark in 1975 (http://www.smilingsun.org/), and the country has no nuclear power stations.

Copenhagen Atomics aim to build a “waste burner”, using the legacy of past nuclear activities. Weinberg Next Nuclear’s next report will be on this subject. Advanced nuclear technology, including Molten Salt Reactors, have potential to engage previously anti-nuclear audiences. Alongside their energy security and cost reduction potential, this makes them worth investing in.

NIA’s SMR conference: great discussion, now we need action

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on March 3rd, 2017

On Monday, the Nuclear Industry Association held its Small Modular Reactor conference. Weinberg Next Nuclear were delighted to attend and our director Stephen Tindale was one of the many speakers.

The conference was opened by Tom Wintle, deputy director of SMRs, decommissioning and waste at the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Though he spoke very eloquently about the importance of nuclear, and SMRs to the government, particularly in regards to the Industrial Strategy’s aims of home grown industries, developing skills, regional rejuvenation and a stronger economy for the growth areas of tomorrow, he would not be drawn on the real issues the audience clearly wanted to hear about: the much delayed SMR competition and the question of public funding at Moorside. Instead, he highlighted changing priorities of the government, with a renewed focus on energy security, consumer bills and the potential for driving exports and capturing a global SMR market in a post Brexit UK. He would also not be drawn on the future relationship with Euratom, saying it was too early to speculate but repeating it was a non-negotiable aspect of exiting the EU, a decision many we spoke to think is premature and will lead to huge hurdles for British nuclear in the future.

Clearly, despite the challenges ahead, the potential and appetite for new nuclear displayed at the conference was immense. Talks followed by Charles Potter of the national Nuclear laboratory who said there were 250 potential sites for SMRs in the UK with an estimate of 70GWe that could be developed. Then Dr John Iris Jones spoke about the nuclear site at Trawsfynydd and how the community, who largely rely on the current nuclear reactor for jobs, were strongly in support of a new SMR and were keen to see progress on the technology.

Our Director Stephen Tindale was on a panel with Mike Middleton of the Energy Technology InstituteLiz Saville-Roberts MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Tom Greatrex of the Nuclear Industry Association discussing SMRs and Industrial Strategy. He argued the government needed a portfolio of clean energy technologies, and within the nuclear portfolio itself, there are lots of opportunities including load following for intermittent technologies and using up the spent fuel stockpile for energy instead of treating it as waste. When asked about government plans he said the Government have spent enough time building a vision; now, we need action. The action we need to see, Stephen recommended, was the Government telling the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to release sites for advanced nuclear and instructing the Office for Nuclear Regulation to undertake Generic Design Assessments for advanced reactors, expanding their capacity to do so if necessary. 

Later panels discussed achieving and financing SMRs. The former by Chris Lewis from EY and Richard Beake from Atkins discussed the 60x30x2 challenge. This incorporates electricity at less that $60 per mwh, available by 2030 at a cost of $2billion per plant. Nuclear power stations have thus far been failing at this challenge because they are too large and complex, generating much hope that SMRs could be the smaller, simpler solution that will deliver. Counteracting this point was a later finance panel who said getting cost down is over-emphasised as to an investor it sounds like risks. This panel, comprising Fiona Reilly from Atlantic Superconnection LLPAnurag Gupta from KPMG LLP and Gareth Price from Allan & Overy LLP, also argued that BEIS were putting too much hope into an export market as with bigger contributors emerging like China and the US, it is unlikely that the UK will be able to compete. Instead, they argued other costs should be taken into account such as the avoided cost of managing the plutonium stockpile if re-cycled as fuel, and the value of jobs to communities which are worth more than the wages alone. Overall they made a strong statement for state-led nuclear power incorporating the private sector at a later stage of development if possible.

The other sessions of the day and networking were all equally interesting at what was overall an excellent event. However the clear mood is that talking and discussion are not being paralleled with policy progress. The sector desperately needs to see some action from government, to progress with the SMR review, provide certainty for Moorisde and clarify the terms of Euratom membership. Without certainty that the UK is still a nuclear player the sector will easily be lost overseas, to Canada, the USA or Asia, where the necessary action and support is more readily available.

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