Posts Tagged India

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.

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

Striding to a nuclear future: The government of prime minister Manmohan Singh (left) took another step in the direction of nuclear power by announcing talks with Australia.

We’ve noted in separate posts recently how two countries, India and Australia, could help the world shape a carbon light energy future built on nuclear power, and in particular, alternative nuclear power.

So it made complete sense to us today when news broke that those two heavily coal-reliant nations announced plans to discuss joint nuclear development.

“India and Australia have decided to begin talks in March on civil nuclear cooperation,” the Wall Street Journal reported from New Delhi, where foreign ministers Salman Khurshid and Bob Carr met. The two government ministers will participate in the talks in March, the Journal states.

The article interprets the discussions as a step toward Australia allowing uranium exports to India, a country that most of the world until recently had for over three decades shut off from uranium supply and nuclear trade due to India’s nuclear weapons testing. Those restrictions have been slowly  loosening over the last few years.

A source of uranium from Australia would be a huge boost to India’s plans to increase nuclear electricity’s percentage from a slim 2.2 percent of the country’s mix today according to the CIA. India generates 69.9 percent of its electricity today using fossil fuels – basically coal, the environmentally worst fossil fuel  – putting it right up there near China’s 74.3 percent and the U.S.’s 75.5 percent, to compare it to other large countries.

URANIUM NATION

Australia trounces all other countries for proven uranium reserves, with 31 percent of the world’s supply compared to number two Kazakhstan’s 12 percent, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA). Australia’s uranium companies like Paladin Energy have been suffering financially amid a slump in uranium prices following a post-Fukushima nuclear industry slowdowns, so a pick-up in India would bring welcomed relief.

And here’s where an Indian/Australian hookup gets even more interesting  from a nuclear perspective: That uranium could help feed the molten salt reactors (MSR) of which our guest blogger David LeBlanc wrote so convincingly last week. As Dr. LeBlanc noted, India is conducting substantial development in MSRs, which offer benefits over conventional reactors including improved efficiency and an ability to breed fuel.

With India and Australia cooperating, that MSR expertise could then circulate back to Australia, which is easing a longstanding taboo against nuclear power in its own country. As we noted in November, if Australia is going to seriously cut its own 75 percent reliance on coal-fired electricity and introduce nuclear (it currently has none), it has a golden opportunity to now skip a long generation of conventional nuclear and shift to superior alternative nuclear.

AND THORIUM TOO

That would not just mean MSRs, but it could also entail deploying thorium fuel rather than uranium. Thorium – especially thorium in an MSR – offers the efficiency and breeding advantages that LeBlanc noted. It also supports failsafe operations, leaves behind less long-lived nuclear waste than uranium, and makes things more difficult for bomb builders.

When you throw thorium into the nuclear future along with MSRs, the India-Australia connection starts to look something like a virtuous circle (okay, nothing’s perfect, but this combination looks damn good). Australia has thorium mining and processing expertise. For instance, Sydney-based Lynas Corp. mines rare earth minerals that contain thorium, and is expert at processing out the throium. It already has a stash of thorium from such operations.

And India is arguably more connected to thorium than any other country (as long as we’re arguing, you could say the same thing about China, Norway and South Africa). It has huge reserves, including on  the beach sands of Kerala. As LeBlanc noted, the country of 1.2 billion people has had a plan since the 1960s to rely on thorium nuclear. It also plans to start construction in 2016 or 2017 of a heavy water-cooled solid fuel thorium reactor.

The WNA says that India wants nuclear to provide 25 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050. With the right push into alternatives, I don’t see why the proportion couldn’t be higher.

Photo of  Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others at 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany from Gryffindor via Wikimedia.

India: A hotbed of molten salt

Posted by Mark Halper on January 18th, 2013

Written by guest blogger David LeBlanc

The Gateway of India, in Mumbai. The country could become a gateway to energy’s future, given its impressive work in molten salt reactors.

 

Please welcome our first guest blogger, Canadian molten salt reactor expert David LeBlanc. Dr. LeBlanc has just returned from India, where that country’s MSRs initiatives impressed him, to say the least. We asked him to say a lot more than that, and we’re glad we did…

The world is full of surprises isn’t it?  Well, I’ve just experienced quite a big one. I’ve just returned from the most amazing meeting of the minds in Mumbai – the Conference on Molten Salts in Nuclear Technology hosted at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).

BARC is the sprawling campus – more akin to a small city – where a majority of India’s research into nuclear power takes place, on the outskirts of the heaving metropolis. It is a true microcosm of India really: a mix of impressive modern buildings and ranging down to what Western eyes, at least, might call slums. Through it all, no one can dispute the impressive work that has taken place here over the decades.

A little background first. India has been heavily involved in nuclear power research since the 1960s – much of the time on its own, since the world discovered to its disappointment that the country was also working towards nuclear weapons. With its testing of a warhead in 1974, India became a sort of pariah, with most other countries cutting off all nuclear ties – including civilian nuclear power.  This has been changing significantly over the past several years.

But since its very early days when led by BARC’s namesake, Homi Bhabha (the so-called “father of India’s nuclear programme”) India has had a very ambitious civilian nuclear power development vision.

Given India’s lack of easy to obtain uranium and its abundance of thorium, the long term plan has been to start first with uranium in heavy water reactors and then put those reactors’ plutonium along with thorium into a subsequent small fleet of sodium cooled fast breeder reactors. These fast reactors would produce U233. This U233 would then be used to start a large fleet of a more advanced breed of heavy water reactors that would operate a closed, self-sustaining cycle of thorium and U233, a very tough job as the solid fuel would need to be processed frequently.

ADDING MOLTEN TO THE MIX

The country’s steadfast commitment to this 3-stage, heavy water, to sodium cooled, to advanced heavy water evolution has been challenging, to say the least. India has built few reactors totaling only 4.8 GWe and nuclear power is unfortunately only a small fraction of India’s power production  – the majority comes from coal.

Because of this seemingly engrained roadmap, many of us molten salt  advocates – and yes, I am one – didn’t expect to convince India of the merits of molten salt reactors even though MSRs are well known for their ability to breed fuel using thorium, or in even simpler forms, for their ability to use uranium many times more efficiently than do water cooled reactors.

And now, for the surprise, which has come to me in waves over the last few months, starting last summer when the conference organizers asked me to give a plenary talk. I was more surprised several weeks ago when the list of scheduled talks surfaced with 11 of the 25 presentations by Indian researchers. And then, the best surprise of all: after three great days of talks, I am truly impressed with the quantity and quantity of Indian work on the subject.

I left Mumbai with a conference proceedings of over 50 papers, two thirds of them by Indian authors. There were a couple dozen of us contributors from outside India including Europe, the U.S., Canada and Japan. A representative from the Chinese Academy of Science’s MSR program, Zhimin Dai, was to present but visa issues held him up.

Speaking of which, at first glance someone might speculate that India’s new involvement in MSR research might be reactionary to China’s recent major foray into the field. Whether that was the spark or not, it was very evident that a great pent up interest has been released in India.

I have quite literally never seen such a large gathering of engineers and scientists with such an interest and more importantly, knowledge of molten salt technology.

THE OAK RIDGE BOYS

This interest goes back to the 1970s when they directly contributed to Oak Ridge’s MSBR (molten salt breeder reactor) programme and we got to hear from many of those who contributed. From these Indian “old boys” I heard the same lament one hears from Oak Ridge’s “old boys” of what a shame it is this technology was left behind. I also heard the same enthusiasm for its current renaissance.

Indian researchers presented a variety of work on fluid fueled molten salt reactors but also on the idea of using similar molten salts as coolants – but not fuels –in what are known as FHRs (fluoride salt cooled high temperature reactors).

The FHR concept originated in the U.S. some ten years ago and is also a big part of China’s program.  Some MSR advocates might malign this “salt cooled” work as some sort of half measure in comparison to “salt fueled” MSRs.

While FHRs lack the extensive list of potential benefits that MSRs can claim, some researchers view FHR as a simpler first step. I see the merit of FHR design and have ideas in that regard myself but view it as a parallel path with MSRs, certainly not FHR first, true MSRs later.

As the audience was fully aware of MSR’s background and promise in terms of safety, cost, resource sustainability and long lived waste reduction I was able to focus on MSR reactor design. I presented on choices including my work on the “tube within tube two fluid MSR” which looks to solve the “plumbing problems” that led ORNL to abandon the promising two fluid approach in 1968. I also provided a few hints towards a new design concept I hope has much potential, and for which I have filed patents.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Much of my presentation, though, focused on a simpler route forward through an MSR design which is known as a converter reactor and in particular a form of converter known as a denatured molten salt reactor (DMSR, with “denatured” meaning that any uranium employed is useless for weapons fabrication).

This approach uses both mined uranium and thorium together, or simply uranium alone. It is not a breeder like many MSR concepts but results in a much simpler reactor with far less R&D especially since it skips any sort of fuel processing.

The minor drawback is that it requires small amounts of annual uranium in order to top up the fuel cycle. But the amount is just a fraction of what conventional reactors require. A DMSR operator would only need to spend about 0.05 cents per kwh on uranium, and would not be adversely affected by any rising uranium prices either – not even by, say, a ten-fold increase over today’s low price level.

The message: MSRs are not just the best “thorium” reactor, they are also the best “uranium” reactor. It really is the engine, not the fuel that is the story. Come for the thorium, stay for the reactor as my tag line of late has been.

I’m back in Canada now, with Mumbai and my gracious hosts at BARC and the constant din of car horns still very much on my mind. And I can’t help but feel the world is a lot closer than it was before this conference to a future with a sustainable and affordable source of energy. It’s a good feeling, a good feeling indeed.

Photo: Rhaessner via Wikimedia

Dr. David LeBlanc is President and CTO of Terrestrial Energy Inc., an Ottawa company committed to the commercial development of MSR technology. For many years Dr. LeBlanc has been heavily involved in the design and advocacy of molten salt reactors and has authored numerous scientific and general media publications. He was the founder of MSR pioneer Ottawa Valley Research Associates. His design philosophy has been to simplify systems as much as possible while retaining the many strong advantages of MSRs. Dr. LeBlanc holds a Phd in Physics from the University of Ottawa. dleblanc@terrestrialenergyinc.com

IEA World Energy Outlook shows why planet needs nuclear

Posted by Mark Halper on November 13th, 2012

IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven has warned in the past that fossil fuels are keeping the world is on a disastrous warming trend.

The International Energy Agency released its annual World Energy Outlook yesterday, and you could sum up its power generation recommendation with a simple paraphrase: Keep the fossil fuels in the ground.

Or, to take, some liberty with IEA’s words – the planet should transition to clean non-fossil sources like safe alternative nuclear technologies, and, of course “renewables” such as wind and solar.

Paris-based IEA said the world is not doing enough to change energy practices and that it therefore risks causing a 2-degree C average rise in the earth’s surface temperature – an increase that many climate scientists say would be catostrophic.

“Taking all new developments and policies into account, the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path,” the IEA says in the report’s executive summary.

A major culprit is the continued burning of fossil fuels, especially now that cheap natural gas is abundant in the U.S. and is prompting that country to export coal to other countries. The U.S. will out produce Saudi Arabia in oil by 2020 and will become a net oil exporter by 2035, the IEA predicts.

NOTHING FOSSILIZED ABOUT THE SUBSIDIES

Fossil fuel subsidies also played a major role in the continued supremacy of carbon intensive power, as they soared almost 30 percent in 2011, to $523 billion, the IEA reported.

IEA is a 28-country organisation that is part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that was founded in response to the 1973-74 oil crisis. It has been addressing issues of energy and sustainability since then.

This year’s annual Energy Outlook came with a prescription:

“No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal,” IEA cautioned. “Almost two-thirds of these carbon reserves are related to coal, 22 percent to oil and 15 percent to gas. Geographically, two-thirds are held by North America, the Middle East, China and Russia.”

The IEA executive summary made no mention of “alternative nuclear” technologies that could help mitigate global warming consequences. Those technologies include thorium fuel as well as reactors that use designs like molten salt, pebble bed and fast neutrons that offer a safer and potentially less expensive option to conventional uranium-based nuclear reactors.

NUCLEAR DECLINING, BUT

Thus, the IEA pointed out that nuclear power’s share of global power generation will decline, even though the planet will generate more nuclear power as total energy demand increases. IEA said that last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident is causing a nuclear retreat as some countries like Germany back off. Again, the report does not take into account the prospects for alternative nuclear.

Coal will continue to play a dominant role, and renewables use will rise dramatically, according to IEA.

The executive summary notes: “The world’s demand for electricity grows almost twice as fast as its total energy consumption, and the challenge to meet this demand is heightened by the investment needed to replace ageing power sector infrastructure. Of the new generation capacity that is built to 2035, around one-third is needed to replace plants that are retired. Half of all new capacity is based on renewable sources of energy, although coal remains the leading global fuel for power generation.”

Renewables will become the second largest power source by 2015, and will account for about a third of energy output by 2035, according to the IEA.

ALL EYES ON CHINA, INDIA

Exactly how strong coal’s role will be will depend on policies in countries like China and India among others.

“Whether coal demand carries on rising strongly or changes course will depend on the strength of policy measures that favour lower-emissions energy sources, the deployment of more efficient coal-burning technologies and, especially important in the longer term, CCS (carbon capture and storage). The policy decisions carrying the most weight for the global coal balance will be taken in Beijing and New Delhi – China and India account for almost three-quarters of projected non-OECD coal demand growth (OECD coal use declines).”

The IEA outlook strongly recommends the adoption of CCS. (It’s Interesting to note that the CCS and renewables industries, both of which get plenty of attention in the IEA report, teamed with nuclear in the UK last week to urge the government to write low carbon measures into its pending energy bill).

Other key points from the IEA outlook:

  • Efficiency efforts have been abysmal. The IEA says industry could slash global energy demand in half by 2035 by taking simple efficiency measures. “Four-fifths of the potential in the buildings sector and more than half in industry still remains untapped,” IEA claims.
  • Nearly 1.3 billion people remain without access to electricity and 2.6 billion do not have access to clean cooking facilities.
  • Energy production’s use of water will grow at twice the rate of energy demand.  “Water is essential to energy production: in power generation; in the extraction, transport and processing of oil, gas and coal; and, increasingly, in irrigation for crops used to produce biofuels,” IEA says.

Alternative nuclear could help in all these areas. IEA’s reference to industrial efficiencies makes me think, for example, of how small, safe reactors could serve as a clean and efficient source of industrial process heat. Here’s hoping that next year’s IEA summary looks in the direction of alternative nuclear.

Photo from IEA via Flickr

India steps closer to the thorium dream

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on November 13th, 2012

New Scientist reports on Nuclear Power Corp of India’s notable progress with its ‘solid’ thorium-fuelled AHWR plans: http://bit.ly/RUN3mo

The promise of thorium-fuelled reactors remains great. Decades of hype in India may have dampened the mood, but if the country can finally follow through on their claims, what has for so long been the “technology of the future” may at last arrive in the present.

 

 

 

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