Posts Tagged funding

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.

Open letter to Greg Clark on Moorside

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on February 17th, 2017

Dear Greg,

I wrote an open letter to you last July regarding the Hinkley decision, published on Weinberg Next Nuclear’s website http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2016/07/29/open-letter-to-greg-clark-on-hinkley/. As I said in that letter, the government should “highlight and welcome the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s plan to deliver decisions on the Generic Design Assessments for Wylfa and Moorside in 2017”. Now, with Toshiba’s withdrawal making Moorside’s future insecure, the government should step in to ensure that the project continues.

Priority 7 in your Industrial Strategy Green Paper correctly identifies the advantages of nuclear, with  “a commitment to develop a strong UK supply chain to support the sector”. This ambition to make the UK a leader in the nuclear sector will be significantly compromised if the pipeline of projects loses Moorside.

UK energy security will also be compromised.  With Brexit putting the costs of imports into question, and the decline of North Sea production meaning that the UK will rely increasingly on these imports, becoming more self-sufficient in energy must be a priority. The ageing nuclear power plants will soon be decommissioned, and with the coal phase out by 2025, a gap is imminent. Nuclear power is an essential technology to contributing to filling this gap, providing the UK with secure power that is also low carbon.

Finding other companies to step in and replace Toshiba will be challenging. The UK government should therefore fund the construction of the plant itself. The Institute for Public Policy Research think tank calculates that, for a nuclear construction program of 14.2GW (as recommended by National Grid in 2014 as part of scenarios for meeting UK and European legal targets on low-carbon energy), public provision of capital during the construction phase could save consumers £1.2–1.8 billion between 2015 and 2035, by socialising policy risks and therefore reducing financing costs. If public ownership continued during the operational phase, but private companies ran each nuclear plant, this could produce additional savings for the consumer of £2.5–3.7 billion over the period. (http://www.ippr.org/publications/when-the-levy-breaks-energy-bills-green-levies-and-a-fairer-low-carbon-transition)

Nuclear provides high-skilled jobs across the supply chain, from research to operation, often in old industrial areas. It also supplies low carbon, secure power. Government support for Moorside would help put an industrial strategy into action. Hinkley was an inherited project for the current government: Moorside is an opportunity to finance new nuclear in a more efficient way.

Best wishes

Stephen

A Positive Budget for Nuclear

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on March 17th, 2016

Following the announcement of £250 million for nuclear innovation in his autumn statement, the Chancellor George Osborne renewed his commitment to nuclear power in yesterday’s budget. He announced a competition for Small modular reactors, an SMR delivery roadmap and at least £30 million for an SMR-enabling advanced manufacturing R&D programme to develop nuclear skills capacity.

The £30 million will presumably be part of the pre-pledged £250 million, rather than in addition to it. Nevertheless, the steps on SMR delivery are encouraging. It is necessary under European state aid rules to run a competition on SMRs before a winner or winners can be chosen. The sooner this is done, the closer they are to being realised. A roadmap for realisation will also help progress and in the Chancellor’s words “pave the way to build one of the world’s first SMRs”.

Our upcoming report on “Next steps on nuclear innovation” – which we aim to publish next month – will contain advice on how the government should pursue not only SMRs but all advanced reactors.

Fast reactors front-running in Russia

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on February 2nd, 2016

In December, Russia began generating more electricity from nuclear power as Unit 4 of the Beloyarsk plant in Sverdlovsk was connected to the grid. The new addition is a BN-800 fast neutron reactor with a capacity of 789MWe making it the world’s second most powerful fast reactor. It is fuelled by a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxides and, as a breeder reactor, produces more fuel as it burns.

The connection of the reactor has been heralded as an outstanding event for the Russian nuclear industry as it is the first of its kind to be launched in 35 years. Andrey Petrov, general director Rosenergoatom (a subsidiary of Rosatom) said that although the fast reactor had presented challenges the achievement marked “another important step in the transition of Russia’s nuclear industry to a new technology platform”.

In line with the aim, last week the Russian energy ministry approved Rosenergoatom’s 2016-2018 investment programme, allocating the equivalent of almost $7 billion to the civil nuclear power plant operator. It is thus likely that there will be more developments and achievements in Russia’s nuclear industry to come.

 

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Russia-connects-BN800-fast-reactor-to-grid-11121501.html

 

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/-Russia-allocates-7-billion-to-reactor-operations-over-three-years-20011601.html

Nuclear GAINs in the USA

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on January 22nd, 2016

In November 2015, the US department of energy launched GAIN (the gateway for accelerated innovation in nuclear). The aim is “to provide the nuclear community with access to the technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move new or advanced nuclear reactor designs toward commercialization while ensuring the continued safe, reliable, and economic operation of the existing nuclear fleet.​”

Now the first initiative of GAIN has been launched: $80 million for development of advanced nuclear reactors. Specifically, the focus of the funding will be on the Xe-energy’s Xe-100 Pebble Bed Advanced Reactor and Southern Company Services’ Molten Chloride Fast Reactor. The two companies will each receive $6 million over a number of years.

The Xe-100 pebble bed high temperature gas-cooled reactor design builds on earlier DOE investment in Triso (tristructural-isotropic) fuel technology. The DOE states its selection for funding was based on its advanced safety features as well as its smaller size than conventional reactors meaning it could safely serve a variety of communities including densely populated areas. X-energy said that the funding would focus on technology development, including core modelling, fuel fabrication and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) “outreach”.

The Southern Company Services’ Molten Chloride Fast Reactor draws on the experiments of Alvin Weinberg and his team in the 1960s. The key advantages of the technology relative to other advanced reactors are the potential enhanced operational performance, safety, security and economics. Due to their advantages molten salt reactors are under development globally but the USA research specifically focuses on performing integrated effects tests and materials suitability studies to support reactor development.

Both projects represent significant partnerships of academia and industry. X-energy is working in partnership with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Southern Company Services is developing their reactor in partnership with TerraPower, Electric Power Research Institute, Vanderbilt University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Nuclear power is a critical energy source that provides almost 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, and over 60 percent of the nation’s carbon free electricity. However as Weinberg Next Nuclear reported in 2015, the US nuclear industry is currently in danger of withering. Therefore this new investment is vital for nuclear in the USA and globally. As Thomas Fanning, the Southern Company CEO argues, “nuclear energy’s importance will continue to grow as the USA transitions to a low-carbon energy future [and] this collaborative research effort will help accelerate the development of next generation nuclear reactors”.

Small Modular Reactors in Osborne’s Spending Review

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on November 25th, 2015

Today, the much awaited spending review was announced. Following Amber Rudd’s speech last week on UK energy policy, it was no surprise that Chancellor George Osborne also mentioned nuclear and, more specifically, Small Modular Reactors.

He said,

“ we’re doubling our spending on energy research with a major commitment to small modular nuclear reactors”

It has also been announced that there will be a competition launched next year to select the best Small Modular Reactor design.

Many are encouraged by this support for nuclear, including Fiona Reilly of PwC who said it was “welcome news and an important development for the country’s energy mix”.

In addition to nuclear, Osborne also committed to more than doubling support for low-carbon electricity and renewables and supporting the creation of the shale gas industry by ensuring that communities benefit from a Shale Wealth Fund, worth up to £1bn and funded from shale tax revenue.

Small modular reactors should be supported as they could mean a more rapid expansion of nuclear power with all the associated benefits of improved air quality and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. They might be a way to revolutionise low-carbon energy by providing a quicker, cheaper and greener supply – though we cannot be sure until some are built.

However, it is important not to be too selective with technologies and we would also recommend that some of the money promised to nuclear research and development should go to demonstration of other technologies such as Molten Salt Reactors as recommended in our latest publication.

Weinberg Next Nuclear welcomes the Chancellor’s support for low-carbon energy. It is good to see a diverse range of technologies being encouraged including renewables as well as support for exciting nuclear developments. However, in total, DECC’s day-to-day resource budget will fall by 22 per cent. The areas suffering from these cuts, according to The Guardian, are energy efficiency schemes and green heating systems but there is also the possibility that the support for renewables is more words than reality. The aim of the cuts is to minimize consumer bills but there is concern that this makes it less likely that the UK will meet its climate change targets and thus there is still significant room for improvement in UK energy policy.

New nuclear is needed but Hinkley is not

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on September 21st, 2015

A seemingly positive message of hope for nuclear came from the East today, as Chancellor George Osborne announced from his tour of China that this “golden business relationship” had yielded £2billion pounds of UK tax-payer-guaranteed investment for the elusive Hinkley C power plant. Osborne said “Britain was the home to the very first civil nuclear power stations in the world and I am determined that we now lead the way again”.

But back in the West, and perhaps in reality, many have been questioning whether Hinkley C would actually be a positive development for Britain. Three prominent environmentalists, George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall, have written “yes, we are pro-nuclear, but not at any price”. Hinkley, they argue, is too high a price to pay. They point to the £24.5bn construction costs, the price guarantee of £92.50 per megawatt hour for the next 35 years, and the time and cost overruns experienced at the two other European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) in France and Finland. Hinkley, they say, should be scrapped.

Our Director Stephen Tindale has echoed these sentiments. He believes that the contract with EDF energy to build an EPR at Hinkley is reasonable, despite its high, costs, because the plant would provide 7% of UK electricity: carbon and air pollutant free. But this belief only holds if the new reactor were built on time and on budget – conditions that it is widely accepted Hinkley will fail to fulfill. Stephen told this morning’s Today Program that “there are many different types of reactor and the UK government has unfortunately chosen a bad one: the European Pressurized Reactor is impossible to build on time and on budget”. He continued that now there is an opportunity for Amber Rudd to say “this was a mistake and lets start again”.

A new start, and a genuinely positive development for the UK, would be for the government to stop wastefully ploughing time and money into the stagnant Hinkley project. There are a wealth of more advanced reactors that could potentially promise better safety, higher security, greater sustainability and importantly, lower costs. The government has funding, sites and support it could and should offer to make a prototype of one or many of these designs a reality – this is what the British nuclear industry should really hope for. Listen to Stephen’s BBC Today Programme interview here:

A Comprehensive Molten Salt Reactor Review

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on September 7th, 2015

Last year, an exciting development occurred for advanced nuclear power: Molten salt reactor (MSR) investigation won funding from the Technology Strategy Board. The Alvin Weinberg Foundation welcomed the development, writing “MSRs could be a game-changing way of producing clean electricity, so this is great news for all who support the revival of clean energy R&D to tackle climate change”. The bid was led by Jasper Tomlinson, Professor Trevor Griffiths, and project manager Rory O’Sullivan, who together planned to produce the UKs first rigorous study of the feasibility of a pilot-scale MSR. And the results are now in.

The review not only argues the necessity of nuclear power, but seeks to answer the questions of how to pursue it. Current nuclear deployment appears, the study states, to be locked into old solid-fuelled technology, with little innovation since the 1970s and even less development of advanced options such as MSRs. Previous reviews of MSRs, such as the Generation VI Forum January 2014 Report, have concluded that the technology is one of the furthest from commercial deployment. However much has been achieved in the MSR world in recent years, and taking into account the latest developments this publication concludes that the time is now right for a “commitment to an agenda to proceed with a molten salt reactor programme”. Six different reactor options were assessed in the MSR review:

  • Fibre Energy’s Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR),
  • Martingale’s ThorCon,
  • Moltex Energy’s Stable Salt Reactor
  • Seaborg Technologies – Seaborg Waste Burner
  • Terrestrial Energy’s Integral MSR
  • Transatomic Power Reactor

All six display the advantageous characteristics of using molten salt as fuel and coolant including safety, less waste, higher thermal efficiency, fuel cycle flexibility (including the ability to use up the plutonium stockpile as fuel) and co-generation opportunities afforded by the high temperatures at which the reactors operate. Despite finding advantages in all the reactor designs, the review concludes that The Stable Salt Reactor, the design proposed by Moltex Energy, is the best option to pursue. The Stable Salt Reactor is a fast spectrum pool type reactor but its unique characteristic compared with the other designs is that the fuel is static.

Most Molten Salt reactors involve the highly radioactive liquid being actively pumped through a heat exchanger while the Moltex design encases the radioactive molten salt (a fraction of spent nuclear fuel mixed with sodium chloride to reduce its melting point) within metal tubes, similar to the fuel rods in traditional reactors. The flow of molten salt in the tubes is entirely by natural convection with no moving parts involved meaning no possibility of pump failure. The pool of coolant is another molten salt that makes the reactor intrinsically safe since any leakage of radioactive fuel is mixed and diluted in the large pool of coolant. Unlike all other molten salt reactor designs, this design in not a derivative of the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (where MSR designs were initially developed in the 1960s) and is instead a truly 21st century design. Along with a whole host of benefits the Stable Salt Reactor is designed so that all components can be constructed in segments and assembled at any given site. This modular design is far simpler and more affordable than todays reactors and makes deployment all the more attractive.

The report concludes that this UK designed reactor, “due to its relative simplicity and relatively few and low technical hurdles, is the most suitable configuration for immediate pilot scale development in the UK”. Regardless of the specific reactor, the report also outlines the general advantages to the UK of pursuing an MSR program. Britain’s role as a leader in nuclear power has been declining since the 1970s with no new plant built since Sizewell-B in 1987. Currently, the UK has a non-existent nuclear R&D spend compared with other countries. However, the advantages of redeveloping our nuclear strength are many, including manufacturing growth, employment, energy security, reduced waste insecurity, positive contribution to carbon reduction targets, and technology export potential. With clear advantages, and a promising design to develop in the Stable Salt Reactor, it must be hoped the government, in the midst of scrapping subsidies and despairing over delays at Hinkley C, see the prosperity an MSR program could bring.  

In the years of the space race, America’s best minds came together to achieve the monumental step of getting man to the moon. Today, a group of the UK’s most famous scientists, economists and businessmen is calling for a new Global Apollo programme to combat climate change. The aim is to bring together the same great ingenuity, and large funds, but this time to achieve the even more monumental step of getting to a sustainable society.

The main challenge of the day has moved on. Instead of a cold war, the greatest threat we face is a warming world. The programme’s introduction states:

“Climate change threatens us with increased risk of drought, flood and tempest, leading to mass migration and conflict. These dangers can be limited if the rise in temperature is less than 2˚C above the pre-industrial level. […] But, even if every promise is carried out, carbon-dioxide emissions will continue to rise. By 2035 the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will exceed the critical level for a 2˚C rise in temperature and on current policies the temperature will eventually reach 4˚C above the pre-industrial level. We must take action to prevent this, by radically cutting the world’s output of carbon dioxide. We must reduce the use of energy and we must make the energy we use clean.”

The programme seeks to revolutionise the energy sector by investing in research, development and demonstration of innovative technologies in order to make the cost of clean energy lower than the cost of polluting fossil fuels. The authors of the proposal (namely David King, John Browne, Richard Layard, Gus O’Donnell, Martin Rees, Nicholas Stern and Adair Turner) argue that clean energy already has huge social and environmental benefits over fossil fuels, but that it needs investment and innovation to become as cheap or cheaper, which would allow clean energy to “win all the battles”.

The authors’ “clean energy future” is built on three pillars of technology: renewables, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Thus far, the aims of the Global Apollo Programme and the Alvin Weinberg Foundation are very much on the same page. However, the Apollo Programme proposers believe that nuclear and CCS already have sufficient funding, so call for more funding solely for renewables. Here we disagree.

The report correctly says that nuclear fusion and conventional nuclear power are well funded, with schemes such as the G4 international programme for efficient on-site enrichment of uranium for nuclear fission and the International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) programme for nuclear fusion which has enjoyed over £13 billion of funding. However these big figures and the enduring perception that expensive nuclear is overfunded, dangerously hide a huge gap in funding for research and development of what should be the nuclear of the future: advanced nuclear reactors.

At the time of the space race and the original Apollo Program, huge advances were being made in nuclear power. In fact it was the time when Alvin Weinberg himself did some of his best work, on advanced nuclear reactors. This contrasts hugely with the lack of progress today. It is a sad irony that the new Apollo program is not promoting further nuclear investment as was occurring at the time of the original.

AWF and the Apollo programme have a common cause. As supporters of all clean energy, AWF are very much in favour of further investment in renewables R&D. But further investment in advanced nuclear R&D is also desperately needed.

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