Posts Tagged Nuclear

Advanced nuclear can support wind and solar

Posted by Stephen Tindale on March 9th, 2017

Last week I went to Amsterdam to speak at a seminar on ‘nuclear: the elephant in the room’. The Netherlands has only one operating nuclear power station, Borssele, providing about 4% of the power generated in the country. The Netherlands is very flat (and much of it below sea level) so hydro is not an option. This explains why the Netherlands currently gets only around 6.5% of its energy from renewables. The Dutch target under the EU Renewable Energy Directive is to get 14% of total energy from renewables by 2020. Major expansions of on- and offshore wind are underway. But where should the other 86% come from?

The Netherlands has substantial gas resources, so a lot of gas power stations. Gas is less bad for the climate than coal is, and an effective way to back up intermittent renewables such as wind. But gas without carbon capture and storage is not low carbon enough to be regarded as clean (as we argued in http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2017/01/23/new-report-the-case-for-a-clean-energy-alliance/).

The Dutch go to the polls on 15 March. None of the 28 parties standing in the general election is proposing a new nuclear power station. So the reference to the elephant in the room was appropriate.

The role that nuclear could play was well set out by Pier Stapersma of Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute for International Relations (https://www.clingendael.nl/). Pier pointed out that it is possible for nuclear reactors to ‘load follow’ – operate as back up to intermittent wind – and that smaller reactors can do this more efficiently than large reactors can.

Despite the lack of political engagement with nuclear issues, there is some important nuclear research underway in the Netherlands, notably into thorium molten salt reactors at the Delft University of Technology. The website states that “Sun and wind are intermittent energy sources, that require backup. Thorium MSR’s are excellent for providing this. MSR’s can ‘load follow’ automatically, by laws of nature. This means that if demand goes up, they produce more, if it goes down, they produce less.” (http://thmsr.nl/#/)

There is also research into thorium MSRs being done in Denmark, by Copenhagen Atomics (http://www.copenhagenatomics.com/). I met staff from Copenhagen Atomics at the seminar. Denmark has traditionally been anti-nuclear: the smiling sun Nuclear Power: no thanks logo was created in Denmark in 1975 (http://www.smilingsun.org/), and the country has no nuclear power stations.

Copenhagen Atomics aim to build a “waste burner”, using the legacy of past nuclear activities. Weinberg Next Nuclear’s next report will be on this subject. Advanced nuclear technology, including Molten Salt Reactors, have potential to engage previously anti-nuclear audiences. Alongside their energy security and cost reduction potential, this makes them worth investing in.

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.

Our response to Scottish Government consultation on draft Climate Plan

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on February 10th, 2017

The Scottish Government released in January a Draft Climate Change Plan along with a consultation on their suggested policies. Weinberg Next Nuclear has responded and our submission is available below. Scotland is leading the UK in decarbonisation and we believe their targets for negative power emissions and overall decarbonisation timescales should be celebrated for their ambition. Continued support for renewables, and significant hope in the potential for Carbon Capture and Storage form the basis of their policy. However nuclear power, which currently supplies a third of Scotland’s electricity, is neglected. Weinberg Next Nuclear believes that nuclear power is an essential element of a a diverse decarbonisation energy mix. Scotland’s nuclear power plants are ageing and even with life extensions, will be unlikely to operate past 2030. Thus without plans for new nuclear power, Scotland risks missing its decarbonisation targets. Instead, Scotland should look at the potential for advanced nuclear power, which can offer low-carbon, reliable electricity, whilst also securing other benefits for Scotland.

 

Written evidence to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee submitted by Weinberg Next Nuclear

  1. Summary
  • Progress, targets and timescales are all good. A net zero target is recommended.
  • Power sector is already driving decarbonisation; however policy to decarbonize power relies too heavily on CCS and neglects nuclear, undermining the Scottish Government’s commitment to decarbonisation.
  • Without a significant policy shift in the power sector Scotland risks no longer meeting its targets.
  • Considerable benefits for Scotland, within e.g. air quality and landscape, can be derived from a new nuclear build programme and should therefore be pursued.
  1. Introduction

Weinberg Next Nuclear is a UK charity promoting safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power as a solution to the energy challenges of today. Weinberg focuses on all aspects of the nuclear power industry as well as the wider energy sector and decarbonisation.

Weinberg Next Nuclear welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Governments call for Evidence on the Draft Climate Plan. As a charity that works across the energy space, we will be directing our response to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee as the energy sector falls within their remit.

  1. Progress, targets and timescales good

As the Committee on Climate Change reported, Scotland is leading the UK in greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Previous targets have been successfully met with a cut of adjusted emissions by 45.8% between 1990 and 2014, exceeding the 2020 target of a 42% cut six years early. These impressive emissions reductions were achieved whilst the Scottish economy grew. This success has made Scotland a leader in the decarbonisation space, second only to Sweden among Western European countries in cutting emissions over this period.

Future targets as set by The Climate Change Act 2009 show good ambition, with an 80% cut by 2050, though a net zero target should soon be discussed. The power sector has previously been the most successful at decarbonising, and future emissions savings may rely on progress in power whilst other sectors are more challenging. The policy for zero, or even negative emissions from power by 2030 is an ambitious target on an ambitious timeline. This level of ambition is needed but it needs policies to match that are currently lacking. Without more comprehensive, diverse power policy, this target is at risk of being missed.

  1. Meeting the Targets: a role for nuclear

The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee focuses on the following areas, Electricity generation, Reducing energy demand, Renewable energy (renewable electricity and renewable heat), Interconnection, Grid issues and Fuel poverty. These are all key areas of the power sector, and focusing on demand side issues such as interconnection and efficiency as well as the underemphasised renewable heat are vital to overall decarbonisation. But focusing on renewable energy, rather than low carbon energy, is limited. To give the best chance of decarbonisation, Scotland should encourage an all of the above approach including CCS and nuclear.

There is no current CCS in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK. With the cancellation of the CCS competition by Former Chancellor George Osborne the likelihood of imminent CCS commercialisation in the UK is low. Nuclear power on the other hand as point 7.1.5 states supplied,

“just over a third of Scotland’s electricity in 2015. This represents an increase from 2007, when nuclear energy represented 25.7% of Scotland’s electricity supply.”

Additionally 2.2.4 states:

Electricity will be increasingly important as a power source for heat and transport. As a result, the total volume of electricity supplied within Scotland will increase to 2032. System security will be ensured through diverse generation technologies, increased storage, smart grid technologies and improved interconnection.”

Nuclear power is already making up a significant proportion of the low carbon power required to meet the negative emissions electricity generation target by 2030. If unabated fossil fuels are to continue to be replaced whilst electricity demand grows, Scotland will need a reliable form of power.

Pursuing CCS is wise, especially with the potential to combine with bioenergy for negative emissions; on which we welcome the proposal of a whole system bioenergy action plan and suggest it has a large emphasis on sustainability criteria. However with CCS still a significant way from commercialisation, Scotland should not rule out options that are already delivering carbon savings, such as nuclear power.

We recommend Scotland replaces Hunterston nuclear power station with a new nuclear station. Hunterston is due to close in 2023 and though the owner EDF may extend its life, it has been generating since 1976 so will not be able to continue for much of the foreseeable future. When it does close the gap will need to be filled and if renewables are not expanding quickly enough there is a risk of a relapse on emission savings. Torness nuclear power stations’ life has already been extended, but only until 2030. Thus even if the Scottish government met it’s 2030 target, emissions would likely rise again when Torness closes.

With a third of Scotland’s low carbon power due to close down, there is a need for replacement to compliment the expansion of renewables. This will be necessary whether CCS is delivered or not. Advanced nuclear power, with simpler, more secure and more sustainable reactors, can fill this gap, contribute to emissions savings and also generate new opportunities for Scotland (see below section 5).

Though Weinberg Next Nuclear accept the limits to Scotland’s options due to the policy demands of Westminster, the Scottish government now has an opportunity to channel the pro-nuclear sentiment set out by Westminster in the Industrial Strategy into a decarbonisation narrative.

Though Weinberg Next Nuclear recommends a diverse energy supply based on an “all of the above” strategy, there are obvious environmental concerns to take into account. All technologies have their limitations, including nuclear, but these are often overstated. One technology that can cause more damage than others is pumped storage hydropower, which is supported in the draft climate plan. Though hydro provides reliable power, the construction of dams is often fraught with environmental compromises, and the location should be considered, especially in areas of natural beauty such as the Scottish highlands. Nuclear could provide the same power, with additional skills benefits, without the environmental compromises.

  1. Opportunities to secure wider benefits

In line with the UK’s industrial strategy, a renewed nuclear focus could give the opportunity for building a strong nuclear skills and innovation base in Scotland, drawing upon the wealth of experience and expertise that exists. Continuous failure to preserve this expertise is regrettable and could lead to a further ‘brain drain’. Similarly, focusing on building a skills and innovation based economy in Scotland, led by a dual commitment to nuclear and renewables, could see Scotland becoming a leading nation in the world on successful and sustainable decarbonisation.

There are social opportunities to consider to expanding nuclear power. Nuclear power stations are expensive to build but, given their very long lifespans, most of the power produced will be cheap. Fuel prices will not play any significant role as the price of uranium remains low, as well as the fact that uranium is almost 71 000 times more energy dense than natural gas. This has a dual benefit. Firstly, modern nuclear power stations can play a significant role in addressing fuel poverty by reducing the costs of electricity. Secondly, by opting for nuclear power, issues around landscape (e.g. windfarms, commercial solar farms) are less of an issue. This is highlighted in table 1, showing the vast amounts of space required to replace merely one nuclear reactor.

Table 1: Landscape impact

Technology Capacity factor (%) Sq. miles needed to produce 1000 MW
Nuclear 90 1
Wind 32-47 260-360
Solar 17-28 45-75

 

Further social opportunities stemming from a nuclear-led decarbonisation are found within air quality. By opting for a rapid decarbonisation by using long-proved technologies, nuclear power can replace fossil fuel-based electricity generation within timescales that renewables cannot match. If this is coupled with a serious commitment to decarbonise the transport (non-aviation) fleet, the air quality in Scotland could derive considerable benefits. This, in turn, would allow many serious health issues connected with poor air quality in many of Scotland’s cities to be addressed in an adequate manner.

  1. Recommendations
  • Set a net zero decarbonisation target.
  • Acknowledge the urgency of decarbonisation of the energy sector, by changing focus to low carbon energy focus to encompass nuclear and CCS
  • Establishing a nuclear skills and innovation programme in Scotland.
  • Remove the Memorandum on New Nuclear in Scotland, thus allowing for modern nuclear power stations to be built in Scotland.
  • Establish a programme of nuclear new build in Scotland, coupled with a commitment to decarbonise the non-aviation transport sector.

February, 2017

Leaving Euratom: the government should reconsider

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on January 27th, 2017

It has been confirmed that the UK intends to leave the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) as part of the Brexit process. Following their loss in the Supreme Court last week, the government has produced a bill on triggering Article 50 to put to a commons vote. As part of the explanatory notes of this very short bill, was the revelation that Britian will be leaving both the EU and Euratom. Euratom, a separate legal entity to the EU but governed by EU institutions, has controlled nuclear power in Europe since 1957.

The move has been met with shock by the industry, with Dr Paul Dorfman, honorary senior researcher at the Energy Institute at University College London, calling it a “lose-lose situation” due to the potential for reduced competitiveness and reduced safety. There will be increased pressure on the already under-resourced Office for Nuclear Regulation to cover all of Euratom’s responsibilities including non-proliferation inspections, authorizing the sale of nuclear material and safeguarding power, fuel fabrication and waste sites. Alternatively the UK would need to negotiate with the International Atomic Energy Agency for help with this new burden. The decision will likely impact the UK’s plans for new power stations, research, skills development and dealing with the waste legacy.

The decision will also likely mean the eventual loss of the world leading Fusion experiment based in Culham, Oxfordshire, involving 350 scientists and funding from 40 countries, to another country such as Germany or France. This loss could risk perpetrating across the nuclear research space, with the isolation from Euratom making the UK far less attractive for research and innovation leading to a funding and brain drain at the very time the UK is trying to reinvigorate its nuclear leadership through it’s Industrial Strategy.

A complex set of negotiations will now have to take place as most nuclear co-operation with the UK relies on safeguards provided through Euratom. It may not be possible to agree and ratify new agreements before Britain leaves the EU in 2019. According to Vince Zabielski, a senior lawyer at law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, “current new build projects will be placed on hold while those standalone treaties are negotiated” meaning possible delays at Hinkley as well as Bradwell, Moorside and Wylfa.

The decision however is not just bad for the UK, but for nuclear as a whole. With the UK one of the last big supporters of the technology, weakening its strength in the field will give power to anti-nuclear camps across the continent.

Weinberg Next Nuclear is very concerned that the departure from Euratom could severely damage the UK’s nuclear industry, with impacts on energy security, industrial competitiveness and decarbonisation objectives. We find no reason why such drastic action needs to be taken. Article 50 deals with the two Treaties of Lisbon: the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. However the Euratom treaty is separate, not mentioned in either of the above treaties thus there is no reason for including Euratom in any part of Article 50 debate. As Jonathan Leech, a senior lawyer and nuclear expert at Prospect Law said, “there doesn’t seem to have been any real explanation as to why, because we are going towards the unknown at great speed. Legally we don’t have to [leave Euratom because the UK is leaving the EU],”.

Weinberg Next Nuclear thus urges the government to reconsider and avoid the highly damaging consequences this unnecessary withdrawal could have on the UK’s nuclear future.

New Report: The Case for a Clean Energy Alliance

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on January 23rd, 2017

23 January 2017: Clean energy sectors should set up an alliance to shape a supportive industrial strategy.

The British government is today publishing a consultative green paper on a new industrial strategy. It proposes to offer ‘Sector Deals’ to address sector-specific challenges and opportunities. These would “offer a range of support”, including supporting innovation.

The Government highlights that Britain has strengths in research and development of smart energy technologies. And one of the ten” strategic pillars” will be:

“Delivering affordable energy and clean growth. We need to keep costs down for businesses, and secure the economic benefits of the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

In response to the green paper, the Alvin Weinberg Foundation think tank has published a report on The Case for a Clean Energy Alliance. The report argues that:

 

“An Alliance would bring together like-minded organisations – those concerned with energy security, fuel poverty, economic competitiveness, environment, air quality and climate change – to work towards a common goal of decarbonisation. The renewables, CCS and nuclear sectors do already work together on specific issues, through their trade associations. An Alliance would add value by taking a strategic approach, to complement, not duplicate, the tactical co-operation that takes place between sectors already. The Alliance should not be an alternative public voice for clean energy, but rather unite existing voices.”

“The energy industry needs to offer strategic advice to governments on how best to facilitate clean energy. Some competition between sectors is inevitable: public money is limited. Nevertheless, there are significant questions on which competition is neither necessary nor helpful.”[i]

The criteria for judging what is low-carbon should include the full life-cycle of the technology, including land use change. Full members should be trade associations: companies and civil society organisations could become associate members.

Stephen Tindale, Weinberg director, said:

“An active industrial strategy offers a great opportunity for clean energy. To take advantage, different clean energy sectors should work together more strategically. With all the energy challenges of today, now is not the time for sectoral technology tribalism: it is the time for a Clean Energy Alliance.”

Contact: Stephen Tindale

stephen.tindale@the-weinberg-foundation.org

07941 433780

[i] Strategic questions that an Alliance could address include:

  • Should low-carbon energy technologies continue to receive public financial support into the 2020s?
  • If so, how should such support be delivered – through guaranteed tariffs or through grants?
  • Should public money to support clean energy be raised through taxation or through energy bills?
  • How can the operation of the Levy Control Framework be improved in order to increase investor confidence?
  • Is the Contract-for-Difference approach efficient and fair: should it be reformed or would the resulting regulatory instability undermine any potential benefits?”

Nuclear progress to start the year

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on January 4th, 2017

As 2017 begins, financial pressures on companies such as Toshiba are casting doubt on some nuclear plans in the UK and USA, but elsewhere there have been significant and positive developments.

In Pakistan, on the 28th of December, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated unit 3 of the Chasma nuclear plant. After 5 years of construction, the Chinese CNP-300 pressurised water reactor went critical in October and was quickly connected to the grid. Pakistan now has three nuclear reactors and is planning on opening a fourth CNP-300 unit this year. The prime minister has said the country is committed to achieving 8800MW of nuclear power capacity by 2030.

South Africa plans to build plants with a capacity of 9,600MW and on the 20th of December the country’s energy company Eskom put the plan into motion. As part of the tender for the new plants they released a request for information about “experience related to recent nuclear project capacities and costs, proposed financing solutions and localisation opportunities”. The tender process will progress throughout 2017 with the aim of having the first new reactor connected by 2026.

Zambia also has plans to add to Africa’s nuclear capacity. On 7th December the government signed agreements with Russia’s Rosatom to build the countries first nuclear power plants. Zambia aims to have a nuclear plant built within 15 years, to provide at least 2GW of electricity as well as have uses for cancer treatment and irradiation of food.

Increasing numbers of countries are recognising the benefits of nuclear power. Whilst there are challenges involved, and ongoing delays to progress in some areas, 2017 should see more reactors come online, more plans finalised and more money invested in research. Too much development is still overly focused on old technology. If these emerging nuclear supporters want the best from the technology, they should pursue advanced nuclear.

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.

Evidence to Lord’s Committee by Director Stephen Tindale

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on December 9th, 2016

Our Director Stephen Tindale gave oral evidence on the economics of UK energy policy to the House of Lord’s Economic Affairs Committee on 15 November. He argued for a more diverse energy mix, more consistent policy and more rapid decision making on key issues.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement said little about energy. The spring 2017 Budget therefore becomes a crucial event: for advanced nuclear, tidal lagoons, energy efficiency, CCS and several other climate and energy issues. In our work for Weinberg Next Nuclear we will continue to urge the UK government to make the necessary public investment to move beyond research, at which the UK is very good, to demonstration and deployment, at which the UK is much less good.

 

Lord Tugendhat: A completely straight-up question: can you please explain the work you are doing and how it fits into the UK energy system?

Stephen Tindale: I work for two days a week running the Alvin Weinberg Foundation, which is the only pro-nuclear charity in the UK. Specifically we are pro-advanced nuclear generation for nuclear—fast reactors. We have tried fast breeder reactors in the UK at Dounreay, and that did not work economically. We now need to look at fast burner reactors, because there is no shortage of plutonium and so on. That is one form of advanced nuclear. The other is molten salt reactors, one of which Alvin Weinberg, the US physicist after whom we are named, was building in the 1960s and early 1970s until President Nixon shut it down. It is an advanced technology—it is not just a paper reactor—but it has not been implemented or built more recently, so there is much work to be done there. The rest of the week I am a consultant, and I work particularly for Tidal Lagoon Power. You have just had a discussion about possible new forms of renewable energy. I would say that tidal lagoons are a very good example of that, and I am very happy to talk about that.

Lord Sharkey: Can I ask you two more questions about technology? First, what impact do you expect your own technologies to make over the next 10 years? Secondly, which other technologies will have the most transformative or disruptive effect on the energy sector and which areas should be priorities for research, apart from your own technologies of course?

Stephen Tindale: Over the next 10 years, advanced nuclear will not be a major player in energy systems. Commercialisation is possible over the next 10 years, but there will not be many advanced nuclear reactors operating in 10 years’ time. That does not mean that we should go slow on it, because over the following 10 or 20 years they could become major players, but a decade is too short a period. One of the companies I am working with, Terrestrial Energy, a Canadian-based company, has said that it aims to commercialise by the mid-2020s, so it is possible, at least in its view. That is why further generation 3 existing reactor designs are necessary as a kind of bridge technology to get us to advanced nuclear, which will be a major player not only in electricity but in heat. Industrial heating cannot be delivered by electricity, as I understand it, so some other form of heating is necessary. Bioenergy is possible, but that has lots of downsides relating to land use and biodiversity, so advanced nuclear for industrial heating seems a sensible way forward.

The other company I mentioned, Tidal Lagoon Power, could be a major player in the next 10 years. I very much hope that following the Hendry review the Government will authorise and support the pathfinder proposal for Swansea financially through a CFD. That is necessary, learning by doing and so on, but the company says that it will then build a 3 gigawatt lagoon off Cardiff, and the Welsh Government are very supportive; they have given it a commercial loan. It is therefore possible that by 2026 more than 3 gigawatts will be generated by the Severn.

Lord Layard: I wanted to ask you about Britain’s record in clean energy research compared with other countries’, and in particular about the implications of the Government’s announcement in the spending review that they would double public expenditure on clean energy research by 2020. How would that money be best spent? What kind of co-ordination is needed to produce value for money from that kind of expenditure?

Stephen Tindale: In the nuclear field, the UK remains quite good on research but not good on research and development, or at least not on the development bit, because we have built no nuclear power stations since the early 1990s. What is needed now is to co-operate with the US, depending on what happens there; certainly the Obama Administration was allocating money and giving it out to research and development for advanced nuclear, and the Trudeau Government in Canada are doing likewise. It would be good to talk to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for 25 example, to learn how to make progress on delivering advanced nuclear in a way that not only helps with energy security and climate protection but is a major economic opportunity.

Baroness Wheatcroft: One of the reasons why we have not developed any nuclear power stations over the last decades is presumably because there was a perception that the public were not in favour. We are told in your biography that you spent two decades campaigning against nuclear. Can you tell us where the change of heart came from?

Stephen Tindale: That is a perfectly fair question. Indeed, I spent two decades campaigning against nuclear and drafted the Labour Party’s environment policy in 1994, which said, “No new nuclear”. It took Tony Blair in No. 10 and Gordon Brown some time to shift away from that. I then went to work for Greenpeace. I was always worried primarily about the weapons proliferation risk of nuclear rather than radioactive discharges or waste. At least the nuclear industry is required to look after its waste, whereas the fossil fuel industry just puts it out into the atmosphere. I remained concerned about weapons proliferation. My change of heart occurred in August 2006, when the permafrost in Siberia had a massive melt and released vast quantities of methane, at which point I thought, “Oh dear”—to put it politely—“What can we do about this?”. I then concluded over several months, during which I ended up leaving Greenpeace, that we needed to stop arguing only for “the best”, which in terms of energy supply would be renewables, but we need the good as well. Nuclear, because it is low carbon, is in this sense good.

Baroness Wheatcroft: Climate change trumps nuclear arms.

Stephen Tindale: Correct

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: An easy question: should the Government treat investment in energy technology as part of their so-called industrial strategy? If you think they should, do you really think that government is well placed to start picking winners and deciding where that money should best be deployed? I just wonder whether the experience to date with the very generous subsidies for renewables may have deterred some of the work that should have been done on new technologies.

Stephen Tindale: I agree that energy has to be a central part of the industrial strategy. That is why I welcomed the creation of BEIS. Many of my colleagues in the climate movement were very unhappy that DECC was abolished, but in my view the name of the department is less important than its clout in Whitehall. BEIS has the potential to be a significant player in Whitehall, which I am afraid DECC never was. Industrial strategy should cover not only the job creation potential of energy, or how to promote energy security, but, crucially, innovation. On innovation, as well as the issues I have talked about, carbon capture and storage should be restarted. George Osborne’s cancellation of that competition not only was bad in content but sent appalling signals to the potential investors—actual investors in that case—that there was no regulatory stability in the UK. This is one of our major challenges and obstacles: that energy policy changes too often, even when there is no change of Government. To reinsert carbon capture and storage, maybe not for coal but certainly for gas, would be very good not only to protect the climate and keep up with other countries that are developing CCS but to reassure potential investors. On picking winners, if the market was working well, it would not be necessary for the Government to pick winners. By “working well” I mean if all relevant externalities had been internalised—so not only a carbon price but toxic pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. We are nowhere near that. The carbon price floor in the UK can be argued many ways, but it is about a third of the external costs of greenhouse gas emissions. The EU ETS is about a tenth of the cost, so it is a complete waste of time. So we are doing better than continental Europe but not nearly well enough. In my view, the major achievement of the coalition was the emissions performance standard—the regulation to prevent new coalfired power stations without carbon capture and storage. It is not low enough in that it allows unabated gas to be built or to continue, and it does not use a regulatory system to shut coal down quickly, but the market appears to be doing that for other reasons. The role of the Government, given the lack of sufficient carbon prices and other green taxes, is to set the framework, which is what Greg Clark said in his speech to Energy UK earlier this week.

The Chairman:. Can I bring this session to a close by asking you what steps you think the Government need to take to encourage private investment in your particular businesses and in the sector generally?

Stephen Tindale: On nuclear, the Government have started on the right course with their promise of £250 million over five years on nuclear R&D innovation funding. That is part of the mission innovation commitment which the UK has made in the international climate agreement context. It has made a start and it is now running two competitions, but the experience of potential investments in carbon capture and storage competition, as I said, was not great. The Government need to set out a timetable and make some awards as soon as possible—give some money. That will encourage investor confidence. There is no lack of potential investors, but there is too much regulatory uncertainty and instability at the moment. The Government definitely need to counter that. The other thing the Government could do on nuclear is encourage the Office for Nuclear Regulation to assess some of these generation 4 designs. Clearly, the Government cannot tell it to say yes, but they can indicate that they are priorities for UK energy policy: that some of these generation 4 reactor designs should be assessed by the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

The Chairman: It seemed that there was a lack of enthusiasm to invest in what turned out to be Hinkley C. The Government have ended up paying a very high price for it.

Stephen Tindale: Indeed. My view of the European pressurised reactor—the design that might be built at Hinkley, and now that the decision has been made I hope it is built—is that it does not have a great track record. It is quite an old-fashioned design and very complicated. More and more safety features were added to it, rather than a more holistic approach of starting from scratch and building safety intrinsically into the design.

The Chairman: So we are paying a high price for yesterday’s model?

Stephen Tindale: Yes.

Lord Burns: What prices are you expecting for the Swansea lagoon?

Stephen Tindale: Are you asking about the strike price?

Lord Burns: Yes.

Stephen Tindale: It is roughly £120. Okay, that is higher than Hinkley, but it is a global first of its kind. I know that the Treasury does not like talk of global firsts of a kind, but La Rance, the barrage in France that uses broadly the same turbines, was built 50 years ago. Turbine technology has advanced somewhat. We need to test it. That is why the argument that we should go first for a three gigawatt one, to invest in an undemonstrated technological approach, is asking investors to be a bit too brave. If the Government wanted to do three gigawatts, they would probably have to provide all the capital themselves. That is not, apparently, on offer.

 

Switzerland reject rapid nuclear phase out

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on November 29th, 2016

On Sunday the people of Switzerland were offered a choice in a referendum as to whether to accelerate the shut-down of their nuclear power stations. With a result of 55% to 45%, the public showed a clear support for maintaining their nuclear fleet.

Following the Fukushima incident, the Swiss government committed to a nuclear phase out leading to a 100% renewable economy, but the timescales were vague. The proposal to accelerate nuclear closures, put forward by the Green Party, would have resulted in three of their five plants being shut next year, the fourth in 2024 and the last in 2029. However with nuclear providing almost 40% of Switzerland’s power, the risks of compromised energy security, consequential pressures to bills and the economy, and the potential increasing reliance on fossil fuels to meet shortages were more important to voters than the Green’s concerns over ageing plants.  

The results of the referendum mean the current Swiss nuclear plants should continue to operate for approximately 60 years, with the first plant closing as previously planned during the 2030s. Other country’s reactions to Fukushima have been more extreme, with Germany closing all reactors and pushing their energiewende program. Although this has increased renewables, it has also increased coal and thus compromised Germany’s decarbonisation leadership. 

Switzerland also gets a large proportion of its power from renewables with approximately 60% coming from hydroelectric power. Combined with low-carbon nuclear power this means it has a very clean power sector. Swiss nuclear is not just used for power, but also for heat, an example that other reactors should follow. The BBC reported that, “Environmentalists have said no nuclear reactors should be allowed to operate for longer than 45 years”. However it is incorrect to argue all environmentalists, in Switzerland or elsewhere, are anti nuclear power. Hydropower has some severe consequences to biodiversity and also can have significant methane emissions and other renewables also have their impacts. Nuclear may not be renewable but pragmatic environmentalists would argue it is low-carbon, reliable power with no impact on air quality and little impact on biodiversity. Keeping existing plants is a good first step for nuclear and it is encouraging to see that in some areas the technology has public support. But a continued commitment to phase out nuclear could risk the environmental and economic benefits that nuclear provides Switzerland. Reuters have reported that the entire phase out plan is now being questioned, with the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest in parliament, aiming to challenge it with a separate referendum on the grounds it is too expensive. Hopefully this referendum could represent a turning point for nuclear power in Switzerland and around the world, a very timely one considering the accelerating imperative of decarbonisation. 

Weinberg Next Nuclear welcomes UK nuclear funding

Posted by John Lindberg on November 10th, 2016

On November 3rd the UK Government announced further funding plans for advanced nuclear research in the UK – part of the £250m over 5 years promised by previous Chancellor George Osborne. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy promised £20 million for an initial phase of a new nuclear research and innovation programme. The priority areas of research were recommended by the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB) and cover advanced fuels, materials and manufacturing (including modularisation), advanced recycling for waste and a strategic toolkit compromising models and data that can provide evidence for nuclear policy making.

We agree with Dame Sue Ion, Chair of NIRAB, who said “The research will […] plug gaps in UK current activity [and] begin to equip our universities, national labs and industry with world leading skills and capability and act as a stimulus for national and international collaborative working”.

The increase in materials research is very welcomed as it will play an essential part in ensuring a nuclear renaissance. This is especially the case because future nuclear energy should and probably will move away from conventional (thermal) reactors towards different fast-spectrum reactors. In order to facilitate this, materials research will be important, because these reactors will operate in very different, high-neutron, environments.

The UK is well placed for nuclear materials research. Last year the UK Atomic Energy Authority opened the Materials Research Facility as a part of the wider National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF). This new facility is an important step in gearing up research into advanced materials essential for advanced nuclear technologies. NNUF is part of the UK Government’s Nuclear Industrial Strategy which seeks to provide greater accessibility to world leading nuclear technologies held by four nuclear centres around the UK. Increased materials funding also provides a good opportunity for the nuclear fission and fusion communities to further collaborate, something that we would regard as highly desirable.

Identifying and then implemented sustainable waste management practices is also essential. Waste is one of the main concerns of the general public. The risks of nuclear waste are often exaggerated, but it does need to be managed responsibly. £2 million of the funding announced is designated towards waste management. However, it seems that the UK Government is falling short of the innovative spirit it is seeking to reinvigorate. The funding released is conditioned, aiming to refine current reprocessing techniques (aqueous), rather than broadening its scope to include pyroprocessing and other, non-conventional approaches. (Early next year Weinberg Next Nuclear will publish a research report on nuclear waste management, outlining the need for a break with the status quo.)

The government is proposing research into different aspects of nuclear fuel. This is integral to the potential success of advanced nuclear energy. We very much welcome research into using plutonium as a fuel, since the UK has the largest stockpile of civil plutonium in the world. A broad approach is necessary, however due to waste management issues, we remain unconvinced about the suitability of coated particle fuels. It is also noteworthy that there is no reference to molten salts or metallic fuels, both widely used in cutting-edge nuclear reactors. This is regrettable and we hope that the UK Government in a near future will dedicate funding for further nuclear fuel research.

Whilst being a an important step in the right direction, this should only be first of many steps in the long journey that would see the UK re-emerging as a leading nuclear innovator. What we need is an ambitious research programme into a wide range of different technologies, especially those that has been deemed viable by the Generation IV Forum.

For further information about the funding, see here.

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