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.