Posts Tagged Areva

Why I have joined the Alvin Weinberg Foundation

Posted by Stephen Tindale on June 4th, 2015

“I cannot really complain too much about solar utopians: their dreams are noble and ought to be encouraged. On the other hand, when these dreams of solar utopia are used as political instruments to eliminate the nuclear option, I believe it is most important to object.”

Alvin Weinberg, ‘Toward an acceptable nuclear future’, 1977.

I am a former renewable energy utopian – though, since I live in the UK, I am more excited about wind power than I am about solar. I spent 20 years campaigning against nuclear, the last 5 of them as head of Greenpeace UK. I protested outside nuclear power stations. Then I realised that I had been wrong; that renewable energy cannot expand quickly enough to phase out fossil fuels and protect the climate. I concluded that opposition to nuclear power is not compatible with any attempt to control climate change. And, because many of my former colleagues in green groups were continuing with anti-nuclear campaigns, I too felt that it was important to object. So for the last 6 years I have been speaking out in favour of nuclear power, and was delighted last month to start working for the Alvin Weinberg Foundation.

Alvin Weinberg was not only a world-renowned nuclear scientist, but also one of the world’s first climate campaigners. He warned of the dangers of increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the 1970s; over a decade before James Hansen’s historic Congressional evidence in 1988. (That is not in any way intended to downplay Hansen’s immense contribution to climate science or, indeed, to campaigning.) Weinberg also spoke out against the dangers of technology tribalism. We need to use every tool to mitigate the climate and energy crises. We do not need nuclear or renewables; we need nuclear and renewables. That is even more strongly the case today in 2015 than it was in the 1970s.

In the 1977 paper quoted above, Weinberg speaks of the need “to set the nuclear ship back on course”. Thirty -eight years later, it definitely needs to be set back on course again, particularly in Europe. The European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) that is supposed to be constructed in the UK may well get abandoned; EDF have not yet taken a final investment decision, and the EPRs being built in France and Finland are well over time and over budget. The latest in a long line of problems is that Areva have used the wrong type of steel at the EPR site in France, and the steel is already encased in concrete.

The EPR is a very complex design. Other existing nuclear reactor designs (so-called generation 3 or 3+) are less complex and need to be built, because they are proven, demonstrated and ready to go. However, more advanced designs must also be researched, developed and demonstrated. This should include both Integral Fast Reactors and Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs), the technology which Weinberg himself pioneered at Oak Ridge in the 1960s. MSRs have many potential benefits over current nuclear reactors:

* The plant can operate at near atmospheric pressure. The fuel salt used in MSRs has no chemical reactivity with air or water. So MSRs cannot explode.

* The liquid salt returns to a solid form at ambient temperatures. This, combined with installed passive safety systems, would automatically shut down advanced reactors avoiding future situations like  Fukushima and Chernobyl.

* Some advanced reactors could be fuelled by existing nuclear waste from conventional nuclear reactors. This ‘waste’ still contains over 90% of the energy that was in the uranium, so can be used many times as fuel. At the end of the process these advanced reactors would still produce some waste, but much less by volume than the waste produced by a conventional nuclear plant.

* Certain next-generation reactors can use plutonium as fuel. The UK has the world’s largest stockpile of plutonium, a result of two decades of reprocessing and failure to use mixed-oxide (Mox) fuel.

* Advanced reactors could be very fuel efficient – up to 75 times more electricity per ton of fuel than an out-dated conventional light-water reactor.

*Next generation reactors could be designed to be small and modular (producing up to 300 megawatts) which would suit power needs in remote locations. Compact versions of MSRs could be built in a central factory and assembled on site. This would reduce costs.

* Modular reactors could be constructed adjacent to industrial sites so that waste heat from the reactor could be used for heat-intensive processes such as desalination or the production of aluminium, cement, ammonia and synthesised fuels.

* Some advanced reactors are ideally suited to the sustainable production of medical isotopes, used for scans and to treat cancer. These isotopes are currently in short supply.

* Most next generation reactors would use approximately 97% less water than conventional nuclear reactors.

The Alvin Weinberg Foundation is committed to highlighting these benefits, to politicians and the public, and seeing the potential of advanced nuclear power realised. There are companies seeking to build prototype MSRs in the UK. If the EPR is abandoned, a sensible reaction by the new British government would be to support an advanced nuclear technology demonstration project in the UK.

Areva strikes thorium development deal with chemical giant Solvay

Posted by Mark Halper on October 29th, 2013

Areva LucVanDenDurpel CERN THEC13

If he were to look over his shoulder, Areva’s Luc Van Den Durpel would see the word “thorium.” With the metal gaining attention as an alternative to uranium fuel, Areva is now stepping up thorium research.

GENEVA – French nuclear giant Areva, a stalwart of the conventional uranium-driven large reactor industry, today announced it is collaborating with €12.8 billion Belgian chemical company Solvay to research the possibilities of deploying thorium as a reactor fuel.

“Solvay and Areva have made an agreement to have a joint R&D program working on the whole set of thorium valorization (validation),” Areva vice president Luc Van Den Durpel said in a presentation at the Thorium Energy Conference 2013 at the CERN physics laboratory here.

Van Den Durpel said the effort would cover “the overall worldwide development related to thorium, both in the nuclear energy field and in the rare earth market.”

Thorium, a mildly radioactive element that supporters believe trumps uranium as a plentiful, safe, effective, weapons-resistant fuel – Noble laureate physicist Carlo Rubbia yesterday referred to its “absolute pre-eminence” over uranium – comes from minerals that also contain rare earth metals vital the to the global economy. Solvay’s business includes rare earth processing, which can leave thorium as a “waste” product that’s subject to strict and costly storage regulations. Companies that have to hold on to thorium would like to find a market for it.

Ven Den Durpel said Areva and Solvay will investigate “resolving the thorium residue issues arising from certain rare earth processing in the past and now.”

As a possible nuclear fuel, he acknowledged that thorium offers advantages such as reducing waste and proliferation risks. “It’s not the devil – you could call it sexy because it’s not plutonium and that why it’s attractive,” he said in reference to uranium’s notorious waste product. He also noted that thorium’s high melting point provides operational advantages.

But the Areva executive, who heads strategic analysis and technology prospects in corporate R&D, said that any chance of Areva using thorium in a reactor is a long way off.

“We would like to demystify thorium,” he said, noting that its benefits are often overstated and hyped, and that it has issues including the management of radioactive isotopes of protactinium and uranium involved in the thorium fuel cycle.

He said there is “not really” a market for thorium in the short term, but that a “medium term” market is a “possibility” that would entail mixing thorium with other fuels like uranium and plutonium in light water reactors. By complementing the other two fuels, thorium could potentially lengthen fuel cycles, reduce waste, and produce uranium 233 for use in other reactors.

But he said any transition to 100 percent thorium fuels would “take decades at least.”

Ven Den Durpel based his thorium assessments on use in light water reactors, and not in alternative reactor designs such as molten salt reactors or pebble beds.

Photo by Mark Halper

A Tale of Two Pro-Thorium Arguments, from Jordan

Posted by Mark Halper on October 26th, 2012

This is Jordan’s most famous rock – Petra. It’s working on giving stature to uranium. It should really be thinking about thorium.

This is a short post drawing attention to a news story out of Jordan this week that, without mentioning the word thorium, provides two strong reasons why the kingdom and the rest of the world should adopt thorium-powered nuclear reactors.

The report by wire service Agence France Presse notes that Jordan has terminated a license that gave French nuclear company Areva the right to mine for uranium.

Areva had an agreement in place with local company Jordan Energy Resources Inc., to mine a potential 20,000 tonnes of uranium in the country’s central region, through a joint venture called the Jordanian French Uranium Mining Company.

But their license “is now void,” the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission declared, explaining that JFUMC had failed to submit a report on time.”

Not that Jordan is giving up on possibly mining uranium. Australian company Coffey Mining thinks the reserves are actually twice as much as what the JFUMC had detected, according to The Jordan Times.  Areva disputes Coffey’s outlook, and that disagreement seems to have factored into Areva’s termination.

But the set-to marks the latest in a string of mine delays and cancellations for the uranium industry, suffering from among other things a lack of financing.


As uranium tyres go flat on the nuclear highway, I say it’s time to start replacing them with thorium wheels – the alternative element that when put into the right alternative reactor affords a safer, more efficient, meltdown proof reactor that leaves behind less waste and reduces the weapons proliferation risk.

Thorium is more abundant than uranium, and it typically co-exists with the rare earth metals that are vital to global manufacturing.  Mining for thorium thus helps kill two bird with one stone (watch for our chilling story from the rare earth business, coming soon).

And alternative thorium reactors like molten salt and pebble reactors run at significantly higher temperatures than conventional water cooled, uranium fuelled reactors. Thus, they have enormous potential not only as a source of electricity, but also of heat to drive industrial processes, as we noted recently from North Dakota.

And that’s where the Jordanian story comes in again. As AFP notes, the desert kingdom “is one of the world’s driest countries and wants to use atomic energy to fire desalination plants to overcome its crippling water shortage.”

Anyone who has ever heard Flibe Energy boss Kirk Sorensen speak about thorium knows that liquid thorium molten salt reactors such as the one he’s developing in Huntsville, Ala., are tailor-made to take the salt out of water.

Hey Kirk – why not send a test model to the King?

Photo: Carlalexanderlukas via Wikimedia

Russia throws its hat into UK nuclear ring

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 9th, 2012

Russian state-owned nuclear corporation, Rosatom has declared an interest in taking a stake in UK nuclear programme. Avoiding Horizon, Rosatom is said to have declared interest in new build projects. It has a standing cooperation agreement with Areva, whose reactor design will be used at Hinkley Point

What price UK nuclear – and who’s to pay?

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 7th, 2012

‘Pro nuclear’ energy minister, John Hayes, reviews underwriting cost risk of new plants – whilst “optimistic” about interest from China, despite stalled bid for Horizon

Bidding to build replacement nuclear reactors at Wylfa, Wales (above) and Oldbury-on-Severn has been subdued. Thorium, anyone?

This just in: Three white knights on their way to Britain to rescue a troubled, conventional nuclear project have turned around and gone home. The development raises the question – isn’t it time to consider something else?

The answer, of course, is “yes.” With the UK struggling to attract investors to build two new huge nuclear stations, the moment is more suited than ever to bring on alternative nuclear – technologies like thorium fuel and molten salt reactors that can operate safely and efficiently and help assuage post-Fukushima public sentiment against atomic power.

This all came to light overnight as the Financial Times reported that three large companies – all of which were expected to bid to take over Britain’s Horizon nuclear initiative – walked away, failing to submit anything by the Friday deadline.

An anticipated joint proposal by France’s Areva and China’s Guangdong Nuclear Power Group did not materialize, the FT said. Another Chinese company, State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. also dropped out. SNPTC was to have teamed with Westinghouse Electric, the U.S. nuclear company owned by Japan’s Toshiba.

The withdrawals left Horizon with just two bids – one by a GE Hitachi-led team also including Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, and the other by Westinghouse, sans its Chinese partner.

Horizon is not bereft of bidders. It simply failed to attract a certain level of interest, despite the government’s proposed “Contracts for Difference” policy to guarantee long-term returns to utilities.


Thus, one wonders how competitive the efforts will be to build the two nuclear plants, abandoned earlier this year by Germany’s E.ON and RWE, the two utilities that are selling the project.

The two nuclear stations in Oldbury-on-Severn, England and Wylfa, Wales are an important part of the government’s nuclear ambitions. Together, using several reactors, they would provide about 6 gigawatts of generating capacity to the country by 2025, replacing old reactors in the same areas.

Horizon has “conventional” nuclear written all over it. Nothing suggests that bidders or the government have anything in mind at Oldbury or Wylfa other than uranium fuelled, water-cooled reactors, even if they are the improved, modern “passive cooling” versions.

As evidenced by the low bidding volume, interest is low in carrying on with convention.

Wouldn’t the UK be wise to declare Oldbury, Wylfa, or some place like them, as a testing ground for alternative nuclear?  If the big money isn’t rushing in to build the big plants based on the old ways, why not try something refreshing like, liquid thorium fuel in a molten salt cooled reactor? Start small – thorium molten salt reactors can be deployed in “modular” sizes of, say 200 megawatts, that would defer large upfront costs.

The benefits don’t stop there. Thorium MSRs can’t melt down, because they have failsafe freeze plugs that give way and allow fuel to drain safely away into tanks in the unlikely event of a problem. They operate at safe, normal atmospheric pressure, not at the highly pressurized levels of many conventional reactors. They function more efficiently than conventional reactors, in part because they can run safely at much higher temperatures. They leave less waste. To some debatable extent they also mitigate weapons proliferation risks (comments, please!).


As noted in a recent post here (below), a new report by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) downplays thorium. It acknowledges the potential benefits, but points out that utilities simply won’t invest the money to develop technologies that optimize the fuel.

“Since the energy market is driven by private investment and with none of the utility companies investing or currently developing either thorium fuels or thorium fuelled reactor concepts, it is clear that there is little appetite or belief in the safety or performance claim,” DECC concluded.

Well, wake up and smell the spent fuel! Given the lacklustre bidding response at Horizon, you could equally say that investors have little taste for the performance of conventional nuclear.

So why not change? Why continue to bang one’s head against the same old reactor walls that line the fortresses of the status quo?

When I think of alternative versus conventional nuclear, comparisons to the world of new media and information technology automatically spring to mind.

I can’t help but recall how a guy named Jobs once implored the world to, in his words, “think different” and adopt a superior way of computing (replete with an Apple ad campaign picturing iconic individuals who transformed art, science and politics – clues in last paragraph).

It’s time for nuclear to do the same.

That’s enough from me for the moment. I’m going to go put on a MIles Davis record and flip through some old clippings of Martin Luther King’s great speech.

Photo: via Wikimedia

France and China backtrack on UK’s Horizon

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 2nd, 2012

Areva and China’s CGNCP walk out of Horizon – only Hitachi and Westinghouse left in the bid as UK nuclear build hangs in the balance

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