Posted by Stephen Tindale

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.

Comments

  1. Karel Polanecky says:

    Is there any timetable for mentioned fourth generation technology? Any estimate of electricity price?

  2. Chaeles Barton says:

    Kirk Sorensen and I did a good job selling the LFTR concept, unfortunately that was partly at the expence of uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors. In fact by turning to Uranium cycle MSRs the royal road to quickly constructed. low cost and highly scalable was ignored. It is unlikely that a viable LFTR will be brought to the market befor the late 2030’s, while MSRs utalizing ORNL MSRE technology can be flowing out the doors of reactor factores by 2025, given investmentl backing and regulatory reforms. further more ThorCon plans a thorium cycle converter based on the same ORNL technology in the same time frame. Tese constitutes excellent ways to go forward with nuclear power.

  3. Todd De Ryck says:

    With regards to “waste burner”, I believe this paper by Ben Heard of Bright New World regarding Australia and the possible future use of Integral Fast Reactors is very important https://decarbonisesa.com/2017/01/18/new-paper-how-australia-and-asia-can-benefit-from-reinventing-used-nuclear-fuel-management/
    I think the joint venture between China and Canada with regards to developing the AFCR (Advanced Fuels Candu Reactor) and the topic of “waste burner” is one to watch closely. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Canada-and-China-team-up-on-AFCR-2309164.html

  4. Ed Pheil says:

    Thorcon is not a thorium reactor, it is a mixed uranium/thorium denatured reactor. I’d be willing to bet most of their energy comes from the uranium (U235/Pu239) chain vice Th/U233 by a substantial margin. So, a uranium reactor with a thorium life extender. But, I would love to see the calc’s of power fraction vs life & accumulated power fractions vs life. That could be very interesting.

  5. RRMeyer says:

    Don’t forget: The primary target is deep decarbonisation. Don’t get distracted by secondary targets (installing lots of “renewables”) and tertiary targets (integrating well with intermittend wind and solar). This is exactly what the gas lobby is doing. Gas is the power source that integrates best with intermittend wind and solar. And so the lobbyists have succeeded in selling their product, which is a big contributer to the climate problem, as a solution.

    Germany is a case in point. Excellent performance on renewables deployment, abysmal performance on emission reduction.
    http://www.volker-quaschning.de/grafiken/2013-12_Bruttostrom_Zielkorridor/index.php
    Looking at the above graph, it is obvious that the primary target of German energy policy is to keep the fossil fuel consumption constant to protect the coal industry. At 20% wind&solar the unsolved storage problem already has an impact and solar deployment has stalled. Wind deployment will stall soon after 2022. Germany already exports nearly halft the solar peak on sunny summer days. This will become more difficult when neighboring countries deploy more solar. Biogas from corn will be scaled back when the subsidies stop, and rightly so.

    So my prediction is Germany will go from 33% nuclear and 4% hydro to 18% wind, 11% solar and 4% biogas from actual waste and 4% hydro.

    So they went from a clean energy source that could easily have been expanded to 80% to a “solution” is stuck at 33% until the storage fairy arrives. Well done, coal friendly politicians!

  6. RRMeyer says:

    Don’t forget: The primary target is deep decarbonisation. Don’t get distracted by secondary targets (installing lots of “renewables”) and tertiary targets (integrating well with intermittend wind and solar). This is exactly what the gas lobby is doing. Gas is the power source that integrates best with intermittend wind and solar. And so the lobbyists have succeeded in selling their product, which is a big contributer to the climate problem, as a solution.

    Germany is a case in point. Excellent performance on renewables deployment, abysmal performance on emission reduction.
    http://www.volker-quaschning.de/grafiken/2013-12_Bruttostrom_Zielkorridor/index.php
    Looking at the above graph, it is obvious that the primary target of German energy policy is to keep the fossil fuel consumption constant to protect the coal industry. At 20% wind&solar the unsolved storage problem already has an impact and solar deployment has stalled. Wind deployment will stall soon after 2022. Germany already exports nearly half the solar peak on sunny summer days. This will become more difficult when neighboring countries deploy more solar. Biogas from corn will be scaled back when the subsidies stop, and rightly so.

    So my prediction is Germany will go from 33% nuclear and 4% hydro to 20% wind, 9% solar and 4% biogas from actual waste and 4% hydro.

    So they went from a clean energy source that could easily have been expanded to 80% to a “solution” is stuck at 33% until the storage fairy arrives. Well done, coal friendly politicians!

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