Posts Tagged Nuclear

Nuclear in Africa

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on May 16th, 2017

Whilst nuclear power progress is struggling in South Africa, other African nations are keen to exploit the technology. World Nuclear News has reported that Uganda has sent a delegation to China to learn about nuclear technology and begin talks on cooperation.

Uganda has an electrification rate of 20% since June 2016, meaning there is a need for more power than expanding hydroelectric sites can provide. Uganda’s Vision 2040 roadmap includes the development of 40,000 MW of nuclear energy as part of the future energy mix. Prisca Boonabantu, undersecretary in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development and leader of the delegation to China, said “Plans have been made in Uganda to have clean and safe energy generation sources with nuclear being one of them.” She added that Uganda welcomes partners to help construct, train and develop nuclear energy in line with International Atomic Energy Agency standards.

Uganda has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding on nuclear energy cooperation with China Central Plains Foreign Engineering Company and China Nuclear Manufacturing Group. This follows a previous Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Ugandan ministry and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear.

Uganda has local uranium deposits that it plans to exploit with help from Russia and China. The country is one of many on the African continent recognising the benefits of nuclear power with Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria all engaging with Russia’s Rosatom. As these countries develop, safe, secure and sustainable power provision is key. Nuclear power can help provide the energy needs of Africa and advanced reactors can ensure that the reactors are as safe and cost efficient as possible.

 

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Uganda-seeks-Chinese-cooperation-in-nuclear-energy-1205174.html

 

Engineers echo politicians: SMRs could help the UK post-Brexit

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on May 11th, 2017

Following the recent publication of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee’s report on the nuclear industry post-Brexit, the Institution for Mechanical Engineers have echoed their findings. In a report published last week (Leaving the EU, the Euratom Treaty Part 2: A Framework for the Future) the Institution argues that small modular reactors could be the key to securing the UK’s nuclear future post-Brexit.

The risks to the UK nuclear industry post-Brexit are well known, with leaving Euratom a particular concern that could damage nuclear innovation, as well as risk fuel supply and confuse regulation. The Institution’s report suggests some paths the UK Government could take to tackle this key issue Brexit poses. For instance, they recommend developing a UK Safeguarding Office to conform to international rules, as there is no fall back to Euratom in a no-deal scenario. This would cover regulation of safety and non-proliferation. In the Institution’s (and in Weinberg’s) view, the UK would ideally seek associate membership of Euratom to continue research and development cooperation.

This research and development commitment is key, with the Institution’s argument in this report being that Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) could be the sector that secures the nuclear industry’s success post-Brexit. As such they recommend pursuing the currently delayed SMR competition, opportunities for demonstration and commercialisation, and collaboration with devolved and local government to ensure sites are developed. The report mentions Trawsfynydd in Wales as one such option for development.

Jenifer Baxter, the Institution’s head of energy and environment and lead author of the report, said “The UK’s departure from the EU and Euratom is likely to be complicated and difficult, but it also presents the country with an opportunity to reshape its nuclear industry and once again become a world-leading innovator in nuclear technology.”

Weinberg Next Nuclear believe the Government should take very seriously the reports from the BEIS Select Committee and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and make the production of a nuclear strategy plan a priority. Brexit poses many risks to the UK nuclear industry and it is essential that these be managed to allow the UK’s nuclear sector to thrive again.

https://www.imeche.org/news/news-article/small-modular-reactors-could-provide-uk-with-key-opportunities-post-brexit

 

This week the House of Lord’s Science and Technology Committee published its report “ Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision”. Weinberg Next Nuclear welcomes the report and agrees with many of its conclusions.

Nuclear has undoubted potential in the UK, but indecision for many years, through successive governments, has impaired progress. Continual delays have damaged both short and long term opportunities, as well as tarnishing the reputation for nuclear in the UK and limiting investor confidence.

Instead, the report argues that the Government “must act now to provide underpinning strategic support to the nuclear industry”. This action can and should be chosen strategically, and the Government can decide to either be a designer, manufacturer and operator of nuclear power itself, or be a destination to operate nuclear reactors designed and potentially manufactured overseas.

The report recommends investment in nuclear research and development, including allocating the £250 million announced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015 and giving core funding to the National Nuclear Laboratory (see our recommendations for investment in this report). Small modular reactors (SMRs) are one of the areas that have particular potential, with the report recognising they are likely to be “globally important for the future of nuclear energy”. The UK’s experience in this sector, through defence application expertise, gives it the potential to be a world leader. Despite the potential both for the technology globally and the UK specifically, the SMR competition is still delayed. The report recommends the results should be published without delay, and joint ventures with foreign partners to develop the resulting technologies should be considered. Finally the report expresses caution (as we ourselves have done in this blog) on the risks of leaving Euratom as part of the Brexit process without a suitable replacement. Convening a group to plan to preserve the essential benefits of Euratom membership is a matter of urgency as the UK risks losing access to markets, skills and even fuel.

Unless the cycle of indecision is broken, the UK not only risks losing its status as a global leader in the nuclear sector, it also risks development of a secure and sustainable power supply for the future, and even the continued operation of its existing nuclear power plants. Weinberg Next Nuclear hope the Government heed this report, and its recommendations. Following the General Election in June, nuclear power policy should come off of hold and onto fast track.

Weinberg Next Nuclear’s response to Industrial Strategy Green Paper

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on April 11th, 2017

The Government are currently undertaking a consultation on their Industrial Strategy Green Paper. Our response is below.

Response to Industrial Strategy Green Paper – submitted by Weinberg Next Nuclear

  1. Introduction

Weinberg Next Nuclear is a UK-based think tank promoting clean energy, including advanced nuclear power.

Weinberg Next Nuclear welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Green Paper on Industrial Strategy. We welcome the Government’s commitment to an Industrial Strategy and agree with BEIS that industrial strategy is needed to “build on our strengths and extend excellence into the future”.

The Green Paper has a significant focus on productivity. Energy productivity – including end use, production and distribution – must be a part of that. As such we welcome the commitment to “delivering affordable energy and clean growth” as one of the Government’s 10 pillars. Success in delivering this strategic pillar will require clarity in policy and diversity in approach. Below, we set out our recommendations for progress on energy in the Industrial Strategy.

  1. Delivering Secure and Sustainable UK Power

Investing in clean power not only tackles policy issues such as decarbonisation and air quality, it is also highly important to increasing energy security and rejuvenating industry around the UK.

The Green Paper suggests as one of the pillars of the Industrial Strategy, the aim of “driving growth across the whole country”. Energy is a key sector that could deliver this. Nuclear power for example, only has one site in the southeast, the rest being distributed around the Midlands, North and Wales. New power stations on these sites would secure jobs for many decades to come, which is why many of the communities around existing sites are so in favour of new development. The Government should tell the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to more actively release sites and pursue the options of using nuclear reactors to burn nuclear waste (our forthcoming report will be on this issue). The Government should also tell the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to begin more Generic Design Assessments, especially now the AP1000 is complete, so that regulation is less of a barrier to progress. If necessary the ONR capacity should be increased (as we argued in our 2016 report Next Steps for Nuclear Innovation in the UK). The Government should accelerate the progress of its Small Modular Reactor Competition, to quell uncertainty in the industry and prevent further reactor companies seeking development elsewhere rather than the UK. Achieving a fleet of new nuclear power stations would allow the UK a long term supply of low carbon, secure energy whilst rejuvenating Britain’s leadership status within the sector.

Other technologies can also improve economic development around the UK. Offshore wind expansion will be good for the economies of Wales, Scotland, North West England, North East England and East Anglia. Offshore wind technology, which is rapidly getting cheaper, exerts to the best advantage our natural resources of wind and sea. As turbines get higher and floating potential is explored, the power they produce is increasing and the issues of intermittency are decreasing. It is essential the UK Government continues its work in encouraging the development of this technology and the entire industry that supports it (see section 6 below).

There are significant, simple and inexpensive policy changes that could encourage decarbonised energy. Removing the local veto and subsidy block for onshore wind, the cheapest renewable technology, would allow sensible developments to go ahead. Providing an exemption for solar panels within the new, higher business rates would avoid discouraging schools, hospitals and other businesses from pursuing the technology. This would not necessarily require new legislation, only an exemption similar to that of combined heat and power.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) also has great potential for rejuvenating industry in our industrial areas. The 2016 report of the Parliamentary Advisory Group on Carbon Capture and Storage Lowest Cost Decarbonisation for the UK: The Critical Role of CCS cited potential locations for clusters, including Merseyside and Humberside, where CCS should be pursued due to the ability to capitalise on existing gas infrastructure and skills. Many organisations, from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the UK’s Committee on Climate Change have said CCS is essential in order to meet carbon budgets cost-effectively. The UK Government should heed this advice and re-start a UK CCS programme.

There are also areas where the UK could achieve regional development and cultivate world-leading skills and export potential. For example, the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, recently backed by the Hendry review, addresses many pillars of the Green Paper. The Government should move quickly to agree a Contract for Difference.

In combination with cultivating and supporting new industries, the industrial strategy should ensure that the UK is not supporting out-dated industries. Removing coal and diesel from the capacity market would be a key step in ensuring our future energy mix is sustainable and that the UK is only supporting future-proof industries. In addition, to support the proposed phase out of coal, the UK should legislate that by the end of 2025 the Emissions Performance Standard will be applied to existing as well as new power stations.

  1. Delivering Secure and Sustainable UK Heat and Transport

We welcome the proposed sector deals in the Green Paper for electric transport vehicles. Because of air pollution and climate change, it is vital that the car industry is a focus for change in the future. Therefore the £390 million for electric transport is much needed. The focus should be on forming the bridge between innovation and realisation. In addition to developing the electric vehicle industry, barriers to commercialisation should be addressed. A scrappage scheme for polluting diesel cars to enable more consumers to buy electric vehicles and more infrastructure, including charging points, would support commercialisation of the industry. These could be rolled out in public areas such as supermarkets and train stations.

Heat is the biggest source of demand for energy in the UK, and the biggest source of energy-related emissions. As such we hope to hear ambitious, long term plans to decarbonise heat in the forthcoming Clean Growth Plan. Heat policy can be combined with industrial strategy to serve both heat decarbonisation and industrial rejuvenation. Nuclear reactors and CCS plants should be used to provide combined heat and power, greatly increasing the efficiency of energy production. Additionally new industries, such as hydrogen, could act to balance the grid by using excess renewable electricity to produce hydrogen via electrolysis. The hydrogen could then be used as sustainable heat sources with little infrastructure change required. Methane steam reforming should also be used to produce hydrogen at scale – though this would only be low-carbon if combined with CCS. We recommend that the Government gives more priority to options to decarbonise heat, rejuvenate industry and increase the efficiency of energy production.

  1. Delivering Skills for the Future

Many of the Green Paper’s proposed sector deals are vertically focused on specific areas. Horizontal policy, that crosscuts and benefits multiple sectors, is also key. Skills is one of these beneficial, horizontal areas. As well as preparing for the future in general, we must address areas where gaps are appearing. Nuclear is one of the areas where a gap is imminent and skills investment needs to take place. Investment in engineering skills could deliver excellent returns for the UK.

  1. Creating Long-term Certainty and Consistency

Industry needs security, but in the uncertainty wrought by the Brexit vote it also needs consistency. Blocking low cost, green solutions such as onshore wind, is unwise. A consistent approach should be used between energy sources. For example, if local communities are not allowed a veto vote over shale gas developments, they should also not be allowed a veto on wind farms. Whatever is decided on veto policy, it should be consistent across technologies.

Similarly, industry needs consistency over time. Regulatory stability and long-term agendas help investor confidence. One of the key mechanisms for delivering regulatory stability was EU membership. In the Brexit scenario that the UK now finds itself in, it is essential that a stable, consistent and long-term approach to policy is developed, to maintain confidence and ensure industrial progress.

One area where consistency and certainty must now be cultivated is the Levy Control Framework replacement. Having removed the framework in the Spring Budget but not providing replacement details until the autumn budget, the Government has created uncertainty. A new framework should be developed and announced as soon as possible.

  1. Cooperation with Europe

Significant portions of our energy infrastructure are imported: for example, parts for wind turbines. Tariffs on these imports would increase the cost of energy infrastructure, and so damage British industry. The Government should therefore give priority to energy in the Brexit negotiations.

In addition to securing imports that do not damage industry, the UK should cultivate more home grown industry by producing more of its infrastructure needs within the UK.

The UK must also ensure it stays competitive and open to EU and global markets, whilst also maintaining its leadership in certain fields. One of these fields is emissions. The Industrial Emissions Directive is a key policy that keep relationships with Europe strong whilst protecting our local and global environment. It is essential that that this, and other environmental initiatives are maintained and strengthened to allow the UK to continue to be a key part of Europe’s sustainable industrial future.

Another key treaty with Europe that will impact the UK’s infrastructure plans and energy security is Euratom. The Government has said that it intends to leave this treaty, but not what the desired future relationship with Euratom will be. As Euratom manages the movement of nuclear fuel, and nuclear fuel is essential to UK energy security, it is by extension essential that the UK achieves a good deal and a form of associate membership with Euratom. This could also potentially mean the continuation of research projects in the UK funded by Euratom, such as the Culham centre in Oxford.

  1. Cooperation with the rest of the world

As well as working closely with Europe, in a post-Brexit scenario the UK will be looking more at closer relationships with the rest of the world. One area in which this will benefit our industrial strategy is through cooperation on regulation. In the nuclear sector, high standards of regulation are crucial, but lack of co-operation with other countries pursuing nuclear, such as Canada and the USA, is slowing progress. The UK should work more closely with these countries to smooth the regulation process and allow maximum benefit of nuclear power to the UK.

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?”

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