Posts Tagged China

Nuclear energy in 2017

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on December 16th, 2016

An increasing number of countries are embracing nuclear as one solution to their energy needs. Much progress has been made in 2016, and progress is likely to continue into 2017. However, with the scale of the energy and climate challenges, greater ambition is needed in the nuclear sector. 2017 should be the turning point in which a new, advanced nuclear age begins.

This year the UK finally approved the Hinkley Point C European Pressurised Reactor. Although far from the best design, the first nuclear power plant in a generation is worthy of celebration. The UK continued its support for advanced nuclear too, with the Small Modular Reactor competition launched and further funding for nuclear innovation allocated. In 2017 the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) for the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor will likely be completed and the results of the SMR competition announced. But progress remains slow and the UK should combat this with greater regulatory capacity as well as investment in options which use spent fuel and plutonium as a resource rather than waste.

New nuclear is making more progress across the Atlantic in North America. In the USA, four new reactors are being constructed and many more are planned. The Obama administration gave grants to two emerging reactor designs under its GAIN initiative. It is unclear whether this support will continue in 2017 with President Elect Donald Trump being pro-nuclear, but also pro-fossil fuel.

Justin Trudeau’s government in Canada has been more supportive of nuclear than many had expected when he was elected in 2015. Candu reactors continue to be pursued around the world, but in Canada itself policy has turned towards new designs, including Molten Salt Reactors. Canada has also committed to working on a new long-term energy plan for the future. In 2017 Canada should push ahead with MSRs and ensure its new energy plan recognises the benefits of nuclear power.

Despite this progress in Europe and America, it is in the East that the greatest progress on nuclear power has been achieved. Russia continues to lead the world on fast reactors, with its Beloyarsk reactor turned up to 100% power. In 2017 the Russians should continue this trend and build on their ambitious sodium cooled fast reactor program.

Japan has continued to restart its nuclear power stations in 2016 following the nation-wide shutdown post-Fukushima. As the country begins to benefit from the lower bills and reduced demand on often-imported fossil fuels, this trend should accelerate with Japan re-embracing its nuclear infrastructure.

China has been pushing ahead with all types of energy and all types of nuclear reactors. As air pollution and energy security cause concern, the government is planning a doubling of nuclear capacity to at least 58 GWe by 2020-21, then up to 150 GWe by 2030. China is working on some of the most advanced reactors in the world, including the molten salt program, and intends to export this expertise more in the coming years.

Similarly India has made great progress with nuclear in 2016. Multiple projects comprising multiple types of reactors are under construction or planning. The prototype fast reactor is expected to go critical in 2017 allowing India to enter the second stage of its 3 stage nuclear power program for Thorium.

2017 looks likely to be a year of global progress on nuclear energy. Leadership in this field is certainly shifting East. The West should take note of this progress, and do more to keep up. The energy security advantages of nuclear are more widely recognised and the commercial rewards on offer from the global nuclear market are growing. Other low-carbon energy sources – renewables and carbon capture and storage – are important and much greater energy efficiency is essential. But with the challenges the world faces in 2017 and for the rest of the century, nuclear is more vital than ever, to provide safe, secure and sustainable energy for all.

Hinkley Point to go ahead

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on September 15th, 2016

The controversial Hinkley point C in Somerset has finally been given the go-ahead by the government. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said,[1]

“the Government has decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation. However, ministers will impose a new legal framework for future foreign investment in Britain’s critical infrastructure, which will include nuclear energy and apply after Hinkley.”

The decision in July by Prime Minister Teresa May to stall and review the £18 billion project, planned to produce 7% of UK electricity, shocked the industry. The ensuing debate was weighty and is unlikely to subside as the “white elephant” project goes through its expected 10-year construction.

The questions and concerns over the project are wide ranging. The strike price is high, and many are worried about being committed to expensive energy for many years, whilst other options get increasingly cheaper. There are also concerns over the foreign investment, particularly that of the Chinese. New Nuclear Watch Europe dismissed this security issue in their recent guest blog for Weinberg Next Nuclear.[2] The government’s “new legal framework” supposedly addresses some of the financial and security concerns though the opposition has called it “window dressing”.[3] Perhaps the main concern is the technology. The European Pressurised Reactor, planned for Hinkley, has encountered extensive problems where it has been built in France and Finland and to a lesser extent in China. It has not yet been delivered on time or on budget anywhere.

In response to the news, Weinberg Next Nuclear’s director Stephen Tindale said,

“The EPR is not the most promising reactor design – very complex and so very expensive. But now that the Government has decided to go with the EDF proposal, I hope Hinkley Point C is built as quickly as possible, without major problems and without going significantly over budget. And Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy Greg Clark can now turn his attention to other nuclear projects: those at Wylfa and Moorside, the Small Modular Reactor competition and some advanced nuclear reactors to use spent fuel and plutonium as fuel.” 

Weinberg Next Nuclear previously reported and wrote to Greg Clarke, that there are more promising nuclear technology options than Hinkley. However we also strongly believe that new nuclear is necessary to mitigate the energy and climate crises. As such, we now hope Hinkley’s progress goes as smoothly as possible to provide much needed low carbon electricity, whilst advanced nuclear options continue to be pursued to ensure the UK has a bright nuclear future.

 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-confirms-hinkley-point-c-project-following-new-agreement-in-principle-with-edf

[2] http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2016/09/07/theresa-may-has-nothing-to-fear-from-foreign-investment-in-nuclear-a-guest-blog-by-tim-yeo/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/sep/15/hinkley-point-c-nuclear-power-station-gets-go-ahead

Theresa May has nothing to fear from foreign investment in nuclear. Here’s why…

New Nuclear Watch Europe (NNWE) was established under my chairmanship at the end of 2014. Its purpose is the promotion of new nuclear capacity across Europe and further afield.

As such, although an industry funded body, NNWE is not a trade body but more a campaigning organisation. Our philosophy and core principles are described in more detail on our website: www.newnuclearwatch.eu.

Our starting point is that tackling the challenge of climate change requires almost total decarbonisation of the electricity industry by the middle of this century. That goal can only be achieved with a substantial contribution from the nuclear industry. Nuclear power is therefore an important element in the energy mix in many countries.

However, in addition to being a reliable, low carbon and very safe source of electricity, nuclear must also show governments, taxpayers and consumers that it offers good value for money. This is necessary because of current unusually low gas prices and falling costs in renewable technologies such as solar and wind power.

In Britain, controversy has surrounded the high strike price which the Government has agreed for Hinkley Point C (HPC). What appeared a reasonable deal during negotiations four years ago, when the cost of alternative sources of electricity was much higher, looks less competitive now.

In addition, EDF’s continuing technical problems with the EPR have created doubts about when, or even whether, HPC will actually come on stream. Against this background, NNWE has argued strongly for consideration to be given to alternative cheaper nuclear technologies.

However, any fresh setback at HPC will be seized on by opponents of nuclear as evidence of the industry’s inability to deliver new capacity. We have therefore supported the project, even though the value of the baseload power it can provide will be less if further technical delays occur. We have suggested that a reduction in the price should be sought if HPC is not in production by 2025.

Nuclear will certainly have been high on the agenda for the bilateral meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Theresa May last weekend in the margins of the G20 summit in the lovely old eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

Various explanations of the last minute intervention by the Prime Minister to review the HPC agreement have been advanced in the last few weeks. One of the most common – though least rational – advanced by some people who ought to know better is that foreign ownership of a nuclear power station exposes British consumers to the risk of blackouts.

There are two serious flaws in this theory. The first is the inability of its proponents to explain the circumstances in which it would be in the interests of China, or any other foreign owner, to shut down a nuclear plant on whose construction they had just spent billions.

Nuclear power is more capital intensive than almost any other form of energy. All of the huge investment required has to be made upfront during the construction period. This means that almost a decade passes before any return at all is earned on these massive capital outlays, and a second decade will go by before the project produces a net surplus.

A malignly motivated plant shutdown would therefore be financially catastrophic for any foreign investor. Equally important in this case, it would destroy any possibility of future Chinese investment in infrastructure assets in western countries, effectively closing the door on profitable opportunities in many of the world’s most attractive markets.

Furthermore, no commercial objection could be raised to including in the contract a provision that if the generation of electricity from a nuclear plant is halted by the owners for political rather than operational reasons, the reactor could be taken over by the British government without compensation being paid.

The second flaw in the theory is the ineffectiveness of action to stop electricity production. Although the loss of as much as seven percent of the nation’s supply would be uncomfortable and strain capacity for a while, it would not paralyse the economy as effectively as interference in some other foreign controlled infrastructure would.

For a start, other generators would increase their output. Additionally, by the late 2020s, the earliest possible completion date for Bradwell, the nuclear plant which China hopes to control, the capacity of interconnectors to import electricity from continental Europe will be much greater. National Grid could also ensure that the burden of any shortages was shared by consumers nationwide.

Contrast this with the devastation which would result from a closure of, for example, UK Power Networks. This company delivers electricity to the premises of millions of users in southeast England including the whole of London.

Few people have heard of this crucial infrastructure company. It rarely receives attention from the popular media because it does not send bills directly to domestic consumers. Its ownership by a company based in Hong Kong has been accepted for years, without a murmur of protest from the people now clamouring to block Chinese investment in Hinkley.

Yet at the flick of a switch UKPN could impose a total blackout on London. This would inflict far more devastating consequences than the loss of a single nuclear plant could ever achieve. The economic damage alone would be incalculable and there wouldn’t even be a minority British shareholder to protest.

This is not intended to raise any alarms. In my view it is inconceivable that UKPN would ever act in such a harmful and irrational way because it has much more to lose than to gain. But the same arguments apply to other foreign investors too.

So when the Prime Minister discusses these issues with her counterparts, let her concentrate on real concerns such as cyber security, completion date guarantees and proportions of localised supply chain work. These are legitimate subjects for negotiation. Fanciful notions of malign plant shutdowns are not.

The importance of settling the Hinkley question swiftly goes much wider than nuclear, wider even than the whole energy sector. Until the present uncertainty is resolved, every infrastructure investment in Britain is affected because all investors hate uncertainty.

The inevitable consequence is that prospective investors will seek higher returns from any investment they make in Britain. The cost of those higher returns will fall entirely on British consumers.

For that reason, let’s hope that the Prime Minister enjoys a cup of China’s finest tea beside the scenic West Lake with her host President, and returns home determined to get the best deal for the British people. One way to do that is to maintain, on this issue at least, her predecessor’s welcome for responsible foreign investment into Britain and its energy industry.

Tim Yeo was Conservative MP for South Suffolk from 1983 to 2015. He now chairs New Nuclear Watch Europe and the University of Sheffield Industrial Advisory Board for the Energy 2050 initiative. As an MP he served as Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (2002-03, Chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee (2005-2010) and Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee from 2010-2015.

Guest blogs represent the views of the author(s), and not necessarily the views of Weinberg Next Nuclear.

New Nuclear Watch Europe (NNWE)
www.newnuclearwatch.eu | @newnuclearwatch | contact@newnuclearwatch.eu

2017 in China set to be the year of advanced nuclear

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on February 16th, 2016

The Chinese have long responded to rapidly growing demand in energy by pursuing progress in all technologies. Now, they seem to be about to have a breakthrough with nuclear power, announcing that they plan to have an advanced reactor online by the end of next year.

The hopeful design is a high-temperature, gas cooled, pebble-bed reactor. The key advantage is its passive safety – it is unable to melt down. This is due to the fact the uranium fuel is encased in pebble sized balls, preventing the fuel from breaking down, and also because the reactor is meant to operate at high temperatures, so does not need constant cooling systems which can fail. The pebbles also lessen waste problems by making the uranium easier to dispose of. Eventually China aims to recycle all of its nuclear waste products as part of a sustainable nuclear programme.

The technology itself is not new. It was developed in Germany decades ago, but has never been built on a commercial scale. The construction is underway in the Shandong province south of Beijing and is nearing completion. A series of tests will be conducted this year before energy production can start in 2017.

Successful demonstration of this advanced reactor will be a significant step for nuclear progress not only in China but also in the rest of the world. And the Chinese are determined to take this significant step. As Charles Forsberg, executive director of the MIT Nuclear Fuel Cycle Project, said, “What you are seeing is serious intent.” If this serious intent is translated into reality, it could have global impacts on making energy more sustainable, and the climate more secure.

 

http://www.sciencealert.com/china-says-it-ll-have-a-meltdown-proof-nuclear-reactor-ready-by-next-year

 

Chinese nuclear on British shores

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on September 28th, 2015

A landmark agreement on increased nuclear co-operation between the UK and China is likely to be concluded next month, when President Xi Jinping visits London. In preparation, last week Chancellor George Osborne went to Beijing and announced that the British government will provide a £2 billion underwrite for Chinese investment in the proposed EPR at Hinkley C power station.

Weinberg Next Nuclear does not think that an EPR should be built – at Hinkley C or anywhere else – for reasons explained in our last blog. However, in return for the funding, the UK-China agreement is also expected to open the door for two Chinese state companies, China General Nuclear and China National Nuclear Corporation, to build a new nuclear power station at Bradwell in Essex. Weinberg Next Nuclear asked the Department for Energy and Climate Change what type of reactor this would be but they were unable to enlighten us further. However, some contacts have suggested that it is likely to be a Chinese version of the AP1000.

If this is correct, it does represent some progress. The AP1000 is not an advanced nuclear reactor but it is a superior design compared with the EPR. Nugen, a consortium between Toshiba and ENGIE (formerly GDF Suez), plans to build an AP1000 at Moorside, Cumbria. Another AP1000 would be a welcome addition to the UK’s generating capacity – and has much more chance of being built on time and on budget than an EPR does.

 

 

Cancel the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Assistant Energy Secretary Pete Lyons called off his trip to Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory when the government shut down last month. He's pictured here on an ORNL visit earlier this year, but not one relating to the advanced nuclear collaboration with China.

Cancel the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Assistant Energy Secretary Pete Lyons called off his trip to Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory when the government shut down last month. He’s pictured here on an ORNL visit earlier this year, but not one relating to the advanced nuclear collaboration with China.

Those of you who object to the U.S. sharing advanced nuclear reactor designs with China might snigger at this news. Those of you who support the collaboration will find it dismaying: Last month’s U.S government shutdown forced the Department of Energy to cancel a rare high level meeting with China regarding the two nations’ ongoing partnership in molten salt reactor development.

But while the collaboration’s bosses failed to meet for the key appointment, the roster of U.S. contributors has been expanding to include additional universities and industrial members, such as Bill Gates’ nuclear company TerraPower.

According to people familiar with the situation, DOE Assistant Secretary Peter Lyons was due to travel to Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in October to meet with the project’s Chinese co-leader, presumably Jiang Mianheng. Lyons and Jiang were the two co-chairs of the collaboration when it began in Dec. 2011.

With the itineraries set and with sensitive travel visas in place for Jiang and his Chinese delegation, something happened on the way to Tennessee: The U.S. government closed its doors for two weeks when Congress failed to agree on general budgetary appropriations.

The shutdown took out all manner of government operations including national energy labs such as Oak Ridge (ORNL), where in the 1960s the U.S. built a molten salt reactor, the designs for which are part of the DOE/China advanced reactor partnership.

I’ve sent several emails to Lyons and to a DOE spokesperson asking whether Lyons and Jiang have rescheduled, but they have not replied. Around the time that DOE and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) entered the agreement in December, 2011, Jiang was the president of CAS’ Shanghai branch. He is the son of China’s former president, Jiang Zemin.

PASSING THE SALT

The two countries are sharing information related to a molten salt cooled, solid-fuel reactor that would safely operate at high temperatures and thus serve as a more efficient electricity generator than today’s “cooler” conventional reactors, and that would also serve as a valuable source of clean industrial heat, replacing fossil fuels. The reactors also portend safety, waste, and proliferation advantages over traditional nuclear.

China plans to build a prototype of a 2-megawatt “pebble bed” reactor by around 2015, and a 100-megawatt demonstrator by 2024.

It is also planning to build a reactor that is both cooled and fueled by liquid salts – a “molten salt reactor” (MSR). It plans a 10-MW prototype by 2024.  DOE has said that the collaboration only entails salt-cooled technologies, and is not specifically exploring MSRs, which many experts regard as a logical and superior next step after the development of a salt-cooled reactor.

Jiang has expressed intentions of using high temperature reactors not just to feed the grid with electricity – cleanly powering future fleets of electric cars –  but also to provide heat for processes like hydrogen production (he wants to then turn the hydrogen into methanol) for coal gasification, and to turn coal into products including olefin and diesel.

Earlier this month, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told a nuclear conference in Irvine, Calif. that the U.S. could have similar uses for high temperature reactors.

“Small modular reactors, especially high temperature ones, may have a particular role there essentially as heat sources,” Moniz told delegates at the Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies gathering organized by the National Academy of Sciences and the Keck Futures Initiative. He outlined a number of possible applications, including “process heat, water desalination, hydrogen production, petroleum production and refining.”

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Moniz told the conference that he recently traveled to China to help promote the Westinghouse AP1000, a conventional reactor with improved safety features, designed by Westinghouse, the U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s Toshiba. There are currently four AP1000s under construction in China, with more planned. Westinghouse and China are co-marketing AP1000 reactor technology beyond China.

At the Irvine gathering, Moniz did not mention the DOE/China high temperature reactor collaboration.

He also did not provide any details on how the U.S. might beef up its commitment to advanced reactor development; when I asked him, he would say only that he hopes to “marshall” resources. By comparison, China’s commitment is much more significant and multifaceted. It is backing the molten salt project at CAS  – just one of China’s several advanced reactor projects – with about $400 million, and hopes to produce a prototype as soon as 2015.

DOE has provided $7.5 million in funding to three universities – MIT, the University of California Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin – for advanced reactor development, with a focus on molten salt cooled, solid fueled designs.  Those three universities plus ORNL were seminal members of the DOE/China collaboration, and Westinghouse has been advising them on how to eventually commercialize their technology.

Researchers from those entities and from China have met for four separate collaborative workshops over the last two years, my sources tell me. Those gatherings have not included chairmen Lyons and Jiang. A fifth workshop is planned for January, at UC Berkeley.

OPENING THE GATES

Meanwhile, the core group of workshop participants has grown to include TerraPower, the Seattle company chaired by Gates which has been widening its nuclear net.  TerraPower continues with its original mission to develop a fast reactor that it calls a traveling wave reactor, but has encountered a few technical snags and is now investigating other possibilities as well including molten salt reactors and thorium fuel.

Other new participants have included San Diego-based General Atomics which is developing a high temperature solid fuel, helium-cooled reactor that it calls the Energy Multiplier Module (EM2). From academia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of New Mexico have also joined the workshops.

General Atomics has submitted its EM2 as a candidate for the second tranche of DOE’s $452 million award for small modular reactors — reactors that are smaller than today’s gigawatt-plus behemoths and portend significant costs savings. Most advanced high temperature reactors are suitable for small modular form, with sizes ranging from around 30 MW to around 500. GA is competing against other high temperature reactor makers for the award, including X-Energy. Conventional temperature machines are also in the hunt, including one from Westhinghouse and another from Corvallis, Ore.-based NuScale.

A year ago DOE awarded the first tranche, of around $225 million, to Babcock & Wilcox for its mPower reactor, a scaled down version of an ordinary temperature conventional reactor. B&W announced earlier this month that it needs to sell a 70 percent stake in the joint venture company developing mPower in order to continue.

Photo is from U.S. government via Flickr

U.S. energy secretary: Deploy nuclear for industrial heat

Posted by Mark Halper on November 22nd, 2013

Moniz OakRidge Y12

Hot on nuclear. Secretary Moniz says that advanced reactors could furnish clean industrial heat. He also backs President Obama’s point that new and safer nuclear improves energy security and reduces proliferation risks. The Y12 sign in the background reminds us of the proliferation connection. Y12 is a defense related unit at DOE’s Oak Ridge facility, where Moniz spoke in this June photo.

IRVINE, CALIF. – The notion that nuclear reactors could provide clean, CO2-free heat for industrial process – and thus expand nuclear power’s role beyond electricity generation – got a big boost here when U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz endorsed the idea.

Speaking via a video link last Friday to a nuclear power and medicine conference, Moniz said that reactors currently under development – often called “advanced” or “fourth generation” reactors and typically small in size – could safely operate at much higher temperatures than conventional models and would be key to broadening nuclear’s role.

“Small modular reactors, especially high temperature ones, may have a particular role there essentially as heat sources,” Moniz told delegates at the Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies gathering organized by the National Academy of Sciences and the Keck Futures Initiative. He outlined a number of possible applications, including “process heat, water desalination, hydrogen production, petroleum production and refining.”

At the moment, the U.S. lags behind at least one country, China, in supporting the development of advanced reactors such as molten salt and pebble bed reactors. Jiang Mianheng, who heads the development of molten salt reactors (MSRs) in China (Jiang is the son of China’s former president Jiang Zemin), has stated that China plans to use them for hydrogen production, gasifying coal, methanol manufacturing and other purposes. China recently released revised timelines for two of its high temperature reactors. It hopes to build a 2-megawatt pilot pebble bed by around 2015, and a 100-megawatt pebble bed demonstrator by 2024, among others.

SMALL HANDOUTS

Moniz’s remarks came as the U.S. Department of Energy prepares to select a winner for the second tranche of its total $452 million funding award for small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs represent potential cost savings over large conventional reactors because manufacturers could build them in more of an assembly line fashion, and users could purchase modules in increments and thus reduce upfront capital costs.

Many SMR designs also support operations at temperatures ranging from around 600 degrees C to 900 degrees C, considerably higher than conventional reactors. A number of high temperature reactor developers are vying for the DOE award, including San Diego’s General Atomics. X-Energy Inc., a Greenbelt, Maryland-based company that is developing a pebble bed reactor based on older South Africa designs, is also believed to have submitted. So, reportedly, have a number of standard temperature SMR developers, including NuScale of Corvallis, Wash., and Westinghouse.

DOE granted its first round a year ago to Babcock & Wilcox for its mPower reactor, a scaled down version of a conventional reactor that does not operate at the high temperatures that could supply industrial heat. Days before Moniz presented at last week’s conference, Babcock announced that it wants to sell up to 70 percent of the company in order to continue building the SMR. The company is hoping to install four of the reactors at the Clinch River site in Tennessse, in partnership with construction and engineering giant Bechtel and with the Tennessee Valley Authority, a power provider.

The winner of round two won’t necessarily be a company developing a high temperature reactor.

CHASING CHINA

Despite Moniz’s public endorsement for advanced reactors, the DOE trails China’s concerted efforts. Those include a two-year-old collaboration with three DOE-backed U.S. universities – the University of California Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin –  in molten salt coolants for solid-fueled high temperature pebble bed reactors. DOE has provided the three universities with $7.5 million.

I asked Moniz after his presentation what measures DOE might take to step up its commitment to advanced reactors and bridge the gap with countries like China.

“I can’t say too much specifically,” he said. “But let’s just say we are trying to marshall some resources to increase our focus in that area.”

High temperature reactors provide other power benefits in addition to supporting industrial processes. For example, they support a more efficient electricity generating process, which cuts the cost of electricity.

And like all nuclear, high temperature reactors emit no CO2 during the generating process while having a very low CO2 footprint over the lifetime of a nuclear plant including mining fuel and constructing reactors.

OBAMA’S BACKING

Addressing nuclear in general, Moniz said that nuclear is “very clearly part of the solution set” in President Obama’s strategy to mitigate man-made climate change by shifting to low CO2 technologies.

“There is no one low carbon solution,” Moniz said, noting that nuclear is “not a silver bullet” but that “neither are any of the other technologies.”

Moniz cited a recent open letter by four renowned climate scientists calling for nuclear power to help stave off the ravages of man-made CO2 induced climate change. In that letter, signed by long time climate campaigner and Columbia University professor James Hansen among others, the scientists push for the deployment of new reactor types.

“I would argue that the discussion about whether we need to respond to climate change is largely over,” said Moniz, coming down squarely on the “respond” side.

The energy secretary also quoted Obama in urging continued development of nuclear energy for a multitude of reasons.

“When we enhance nuclear security, we’re in a stronger position to harness safe clean nuclear energy,” said Moniz, quoting from a speech that the president delivered at South Korea’s Hankuk University in March 2012, which continued, “When we develop new safer approaches to nuclear energy, we reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism and proliferation.”

That includes the development of advanced, high temperature reactors.

Photo is from Lynn Freeny, U.S. Government, via Flickr

Note: I’m in the midst of 10-day swing visiting various advanced nuclear initiatives up and down North America’s west coast. Stay tuned for more reports. – MH

 

HuXongjie AnilKakodkar IndiaTHEC13 Dinner

China’s Xu Hongjie (r) and India’s Anil Kakodkar chat after dinner at the Thorium Energy Conference in Geneva this week. Xu leads China’s TMSR programme. Kakodkar, former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and one-time head of the country’s Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, champions thorium use in his country.

GENEVA – Thorium-fueled high temperature reactors could help alleviate China’s energy and environmental problems – including water shortages – by providing not only low carbon electricity but also clean heat for industrial processes and power for hydrogen production, the scientist in charge of developing the reactors said here.

Xu Hongjie of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shanghai indicated that one of the two reactors he’s developing should be ready in a 100-megawatt demonstrator version by 2024, and for full deployment by 2035. A second one, based on liquid thorium fuel instead of solid, would come later, he said, hinting that it might not yet have full government financial backing.

In a presentation at the Thorium Energy Conference 2013 (ThEC13) here, he referred to both reactors as thorium molten salt reactors (TMSR). The solid fuel version uses “pebble bed” fuel – much different from today’s fuel rods – and molten salt coolant. The liquid version uses a thorium fuel mixed with molten salt. Both run at significantly higher temperatures than conventional reactors, making them suitable as industrial heat sources in industries such as cement, steel, and oil and chemicals. The thorium can also reduce the waste and the weapons proliferation threat compared to conventional reactors.

“The TMSR gets support from the Chinese government, just because China is faced with a very serious challenge, not only for energy, but also for the environment,” Xu said. He noted that several regions of China face water shortages in large part because China’s many coal-fired power plants require water for for cooling, as do China’s 17 conventional nuclear reactors.

“Water scarcity is very serious for China,” he said. “Most of the water has been consumed by electricity companies – for coal but also nuclear.”

GIGAWATTS AND GIGAWATTS

Nuclear reactors will help slow the growth of China’s CO2 emissions. The country today gets about 80 percent of its electricity from CO2-spewing fossil fuels. As China ramps up generating capacity to an estimated 3,000 gigawatts by 2030 – more than double today’s level – it will need to find low-carbon sources to mitigate climate change consequences.

Xu is the director of CAS’ of Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR), based at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, overseeing what he said is a $400 million project (China has described it in the past as $350 million). He calls the solid fuel reactor a “TMSR-SF,” and the liquid reactor a “TMSR-LF”.

One of two timelines (see below) that Xu included in his presentation showed that he expects to complete a 2-megawatt pilot for the solid fuel version by around 2015, and a 100-MW demonstrator model of the same by 2024, before readying it for live use in 2035 in “small modular” form (general industry nomenclature would call the solid fuel version an “FHR”, or fluoride salt-cooled high temperature reactor).

That timeline did not show a target date for a 2-MW liquid-fueled pilot reactor, which a year ago appeared to have slipped from 2017 to 2020. It did, however, show a 10-MW liquid-fueled pilot at around 2024, and a demonstrator version by 2035. It did not include a commercialization date. “For liquid, we still need the financial support from the government,” Xu said (story continues below chart).

XuHongjie TMSR Timeline

Solidifying the future. The solid fuel (TMSR-SF) molten salt cooled thorium reactor will be ready before the liquid fuel model (LF).

Xu explained that the liquid version requires more complicated development than the solid version, such as “reprocessing of highly radioactive fuel salts.” But the reprocessing, when worked out, will become an advantage because it will allow re-use of spent fuel, whereas the “open” fuel cycle of the solid version will not, he noted. Xu said that the solid fuel version is a “precursor” to the liquid-fuel reactor.

A second timeline showed plans for developing larger TMSRs, with a 1-gigawatt capacity. It showed “commercialization” for the solid fuel version by around 2040, when the liquid 1-GW machine would reach a “demonstrator” state. The timeline does not show commercialization plans for the 1-GW liquid version. It does, however, show that a 2-MW “experimental” liquid TMSR could by ready by around 2017 (story continues below chart).

XuHongjie 1GW TMSR Timeline

This slide, part of Xu Hongjie’s presentation, shows the timeline for a large TMSR, and suggests it would be used for hydrogen production.

After his presentation, I asked Xu to clarify the difference between the two timelines and the state of government financing, but he declined.

The second timeline shows the 1-GW reactors going to work for hydrogen production, a process that China mentioned at last year’s conference, held in Shanghai. Xu reiterated that China would combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide to form methanol, a clean energy source.

MULTIPLE USES

China has also talked about using TMSRs for coal gasification, and to convert coal to olefin and coal to diesel.

Xu told me the TMSRs would be used for electricity generation as well, although one slide in his presentation notes that the aim is to develop “non-electric” applications. Earlier this week at the conference, Nobel prize winning physicist Carlo Rubbia repeated an observation of his from a few years ago that China could generate the 2007 equivalent of its total electricity production – 3.2 trillion kWh, using a relatively small amount of thorium.

With those ambitious plans and with the program currently funded at around $400 million, Xu suggested that at some next stage the TMSR program will need an extra $2 billion “for the whole alternatives.”

China is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy on the molten salt-cooled reactor, which is the only publicly declared MSR programme in the world with funding in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The four-day ThEC, which ended on Thursday, included a clarion call from former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix for thorium fuel as an anti-proliferation choice, and an equally loud entreaty by Rubbia who said thorium has “pre-eminence” over uranium, the conventional nuclear fuel. One big uranium devotee, nuclear giant Areva, announced a thorium collaboration with Belgian chemical company Solvay.

The conference, on the campus of international physics lab CERN, featured lively discussions of how best to deploy thorium, including driving them with particle accelerators, and using uranium isotopes to start a thorium fission reaction.

Photo of Xu Hongjie and Anil Kakodkar is by Mark Halper.

Charts are from Xu Hongjie’s ThEC13 presentation.

Bangladesh Map GreenwichMeantime

Newcomers like Bangladesh will help drive a nuclear revival, says GlobalData.

Is the nuclear renaissance back on?

A new report from London-based business intelligence firm GlobalData would suggest it is, triggered in large measure by a demand for power from emerging markets and from some 45 countries that have yet to deploy it.

“Global nuclear energy generation will climb by almost 30% by the end of the decade, thanks in part to an influx of new nations developing nuclear programs,” GlobalData says in a press release.

It forecasts that 198 new reactors will begin commercial operations by 2020, by which time worldwide nuclear generation will jump to 3.1 million GWh, up from 2.4 million GWh in 2012.

“At present there are around 45 nuclear-free countries looking at adding the controversial power source to their energy portfolio, including the UAE, Turkey, Poland and Bangladesh,” GlobalData notes.

China, India and South Korea will lead the surge, as nuclear generation in the Asia Pacific region will jump from 324,000 GWh last year to 852,000 GWh by 2020, GlobalData says.

ASIAN ACTIVITY

In China alone,the World Nuclear Association (WNA) has identified 79 nuclear reactors either under construction or planned, and another 86 proposed, for a total of about 165 reactors. WNA’s World Nuclear Fuel Cycle 2013 conference in Singapore next month will include presentations from Asian countries not generally known as nuclear energy centers, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Growth in those nations contrasts sharply with some Western countries like Germany, which decided to abandon nuclear power after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors following the tragic tsunami and earthquake two years ago.

RENAISSANCE RESUMED

A 30 percent expansion indicates that the nuclear renaissance which was building prior to Fukushima is returning.

The reasons for a nuclear revival are just as compelling now as they were pre-Fukushima: Nuclear provides a low carbon energy to help combat climate change, is not subject to price volatility the way fossil fuels are, and offers a steady supply of baseload power, unlike intermittent renewables like wind and solar.

Such mounting interest should help underpin research, development and ultimately, deployment of alternative forms of nuclear power that can improve on the safety, efficiency and waste of conventional reactors. These would include thorium fuel, as well as reactors built on molten salt, pebble bed, “fast” and fusion designs, among others.

Map from greenwichmeantime.com

China blazes trail for ‘clean’ nuclear power from thorium:  The Chinese are running away with thorium energy, sharpening a global race for the prize of clean, cheap, and safe nuclear power. Good luck to them. They may do us all a favour.

So opens a highly informative, persuasive and notably located article in Monday’s Daily Telegraph by its international business editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: http://bit.ly/UBVvse

His blazing trail has been quick to attract a wide reaching followers:

US Mother Jones: http://bit.ly/VKurc5

Metalminer.com:

Cons of thorium reactors shouldn’t stop development: http://bit.ly/XjsIJH

China needs thorium reactors to quench its thirst for energy: http://bit.ly/WsLcET

Mining.com: China sets eyes on thorium for ‘clean’ nuclear power generation: http://bit.ly/VKdzSL

Newsvine: http://bit.ly/RFrIQv

Examples of global baton runners:

Australia: http://www.theage.com.au/business/safe-nuclear-power-not-a-pipedream-20130107-2ccqh.html (heartbreakingly timely)

Bulgaria: http://bit.ly/VMw5ax

Ireland: http://bit.ly/UGk5br

US: http://teksyndicate.com/news/2013/01/07/china-researching-clean-nuclear-power-thorium

China: http://inpraiseofchina.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/chinas-thorium-reactor-program.html

NextBigFuture: http://nextbigfuture.com/2013/01/thorium-reactor-projects-getting.html

This timely report is tangibly fuelling a global groundswell of interest in thorium-fuelled nuclear energy. We have the technology and the energy to change minds – we must run with it now.

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