Posts Tagged UK

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 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.

UK Technology Strategy Board backs new Molten Salt Reactor study

Posted by David Martin on June 9th, 2014

By Dan Mason, from Flickr

Photo by Dan Mason from Flickr

In an exciting development, a bid to study next-gen Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) has won funding from the Technology Strategy Board, the UK government’s strategic innovation agency. MSRs could be a game-changing way of producing clean electricity, so this is great news for all who support the revival of clean energy R&D to tackle climate change.

The bid was led by the indefatigable Jasper Tomlinson and Professor Trevor Griffiths. In a first for the UK, the project will produce a rigorous desk- and computer-based study of the feasibility of a pilot-scale MSR, based on the latest science.

The TSB’s decision is welcome. This project marks another step in the revitalization of the UK’s next-gen nuclear R&D — although it goes without saying that much more needs to be done.

That said, it is further confirmation that MSRs are no longer seen as “pie in the sky” technology. As R&D gains momentum worldwide – from startups like Transatomic Power and Bill Gate’s Terrapower to China’s research efforts — MSRs are becoming increasingly serious contenders. As the TSB has recognised, the potential prize of safer, cheaper, more-efficient low carbon energy is too attractive to pass up.

We hope that the TSB’s decision is just the first phase of a well-resourced programme of UK MSR research.

We will post further details as we hear them. Keep an eye on the Weinberg’s blog for further updates and an interview with the winners themselves…

Congratulations to all involved in the bid!

Our response to the Hinkley C deal

Posted by David Martin on October 21st, 2013

Hinkley C deal shows that UK urgently needs “Plan B” for nuclear

Whilst we welcome the contribution that Hinkley C will make to the fight against climate change, the saga of the deal proves beyond doubt that the UK Government must develop a “Plan B” for the next generation of nuclear power stations. We are all paying the price for two decades of under-investment in nuclear research and an official policy of industry fragmentation.

That the two new reactors will supply 7% of UK electricity shows the remarkable and under-appreciated potential of nuclear energy. We need new nuclear: it is the only proven means of reliably generating low-carbon, base-load electricity. Nonetheless, if it is to make a significant contribution, both the technology and our economic ideology will have to evolve.

Hinkley C deal gambles with long-term public support

The Government is to be applauded for including costs of decommissioning and waste management in the strike price, which compares favourably with other clean energy sources. However, the Weinberg Foundation is concerned that this deal’s complex financing structure could erode public support for nuclear power, just when we need its major benefits — of zero emissions, low operating costs, and reliable supply — the most.

The UK must replace its entire 11GW nuclear fleet within the next 15-20 years. DECC’s own analysis predicts that by 2050 we will need up to 7 times more nuclear power to meet rising demand for clean and reliable electricity[1]. Yet it is unknown whether the public will support the construction of much-needed nuclear plants financed in the fashion pursued by the current government.

We need to rebuild the UK fission industry and inspire the general public. The UK needs a long-term plan grounded on investment in research and the training of young scientists and engineers. We must fund research to overcome the limitations of the current reactor technology, which requires huge up-front capital investment. Radically better, cheaper forms of nuclear power, such as Molten Salt Reactors, are possible.

Nuclear innovation is sorely needed

We need a concerted programme of nuclear R&D to make nuclear competitive with fossil fuels up-front, by lowering the capital cost. Next-generation reactors will be cheaper and researchers are working hard – at present with minimal public funding – to bring them to market.

For example, Molten Salt Reactors cannot melt-down, could utilise nuclear fuel thirty-times more efficiently than currently designs[2] and could be mass-produced, greatly reducing the initial capital cost. The UK Government should invest in promising technologies like Molten Salt Reactors as a matter of urgency.

The UK Government, with industry, must do more to support the development of cheaper, safer and more sustainable reactors. A concerted programme of R&D now would lay the ground for a true revival of the UK nuclear industry and help to return the country to the top table of international engineering and manufacturing capability.

John Durham, Chairman of the Weinberg Foundation, said: “To fight climate change and ensure energy security we urgently need to lower the capital cost of new nuclear. The best way of doing this is through a coordinated R&D programme to develop the most promising next-generation reactors, such as Molten Salt Reactors. Investment in next-generation nuclear technology today will ensure that the UK leads the global nuclear revival in the years ahead.”



[1] See DECC: “Energy Pathways”: https://www.gov.uk/2050-pathways-analysis

[2] Most Molten Salt Reactors have projected fuel “burn-up” rates exceeding 90%. Modern Light Water Reactors, such as the EPR scheduled for Hinkley C, can only burn-up approximately 3-4% of the fuel’s potential. (See the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Thorium Energy, Thorium-fuelled Molten Salt Reactors)

Statement on the UK Government’s Fission R&D Roadmap

Posted by David Martin on March 26th, 2013

Following the release of the UK Government’s new nuclear R&D ‘roadmap’ today, we thought we ought to release a brief statement outlining our views.

Incisive blogs from Mark Halper will follow over the next few days.

The Weinberg Foundation welcomes the release of the British Government’s long-awaited Review of nuclear research and development policy. We are pleased that the Government has recognised the need for greatly increased coordination between the UK’s academic, government and industrial nuclear researchers, and welcome the commitment to fund additional research facilities to support the leadership of the UK academic community.

However, whilst the Review does recognise nuclear power’s essential role in safeguarding our climate and energy security, we believe that the initiatives announced today must be only the first step towards a large-scale revival of the UK’s nuclear research and industrial base.

Many of the Government’s own Energy Pathway scenarios envisage that nuclear will supply 40-85% of UK electricity by 2050. So, the amount of nuclear power will at least double in the next three decades. The Government’s proposed funding of fission R&D is not commensurate with the scale of the task.

Failure to fund the research and development of at least 50% of the UK’s future energy supply is short-sighted. “Market-led” solutions to nuclear R&D are not enough. It is time for Government to take the lead.

We must make sure the UK utilises the safest, most efficient and most sustainable nuclear technology available. The UK has a unique opportunity to become the world-leader in the development of safer fuels such as thorium and more efficient next-generation reactors like the breakthrough Molten Salt Reactor. The Government must fund the research and development of next-generation nuclear power as a matter of urgency, in cooperation with industry, and with international partners if needed.

Lord Hanworth, Treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Thorium Energy, said: “While I welcome Ad Hoc Nuclear Research Board’s emphasis on the importance of increased nuclear fission research in the UK, it was disappointing that the report did not stress the vital importance of further research into thorium, a cleaner, safer nuclear fuel.  Coupled with advanced reactor designs, such as the molten salt reactor, thorium could bring about a more sustainable era of nuclear power, and make a huge contribution to both our energy security and the fight against climate change.”

For further information please contact David Martin on david.martin[at]the-weinberg-foundation.org.  

A PDF of this statement can be downloaded here.

UK joins test reactor project in France with £12.5m commitment

Posted by Mark Halper on March 13th, 2013

Davey EmieFrenchAmbassador

Splitsville. UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey (r) and French Ambassador Bernard Emié at the London       signing of Britain’s £12.5 million commitment to the Jules Horowitz test reactor in France, where the two countries and others will test new techniques and materials for splitting atoms.

The research and development of alternative nuclear technologies received a boost yesterday when the UK committed £12. 5 million ($18.6 million) to join a group of nine other governments and three utilities in a French test reactor.

The Jules Horowitz Reactor (JHR), under construction in Cadarache, France (the same southern city where the ITER fusion tokamak is rising) is scheduled for completion by 2016, at a cost of €750 million ($972 million). The JHR website says that the reactor will support the development of  “different power reactor systems” including those based on “existing and future technologies.”

“It will have the potential to look at thorium fuels, fast reactors, novel fuel designs for SMRs (small modular reactors), etc.,” explained Adrian Bull, director of external relations at the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in an email exchange.

NNL is the Sellafield, England-based privately run research lab owned by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. It is leading the UK’s involvement at JHR, where it joins government research groups from France, the Czech Republic, Japan, Spain, Belgium, India, Finland and Israel who were already active there.

The project also includes the European Commission, as well nuclear company Areva, French utility EDF, and Swedish utility Vattenfall.

GAINING ACCESS

“It’s vital that we cooperate on issues like safety and R&D,” said John Hayes, Minister of State for Energy at DECC, in a press release. “We are putting our money where our mouth is by confirming our contribution of £12.5m to the Jules Horowitz research reactor in France and guaranteeing the UK access rights to the project.”

NNL managing director Paul Howarth said the commitment to the JHR “is an important step towards returning the UK to the international ‘top table’ in the arena of civil nuclear R&D.”

The JHR will also supply hospitals with medical isotopes.

It is part of a fleet of six European Union “material test reactors” including the Halden Reactor in Norway, which will soon begin irradiating thorium fuel here, and which supplies heat to a nearby paper mill

JHR will replace the older Osiris Reactor, also in France. At 100 megawatts, it will be the largest of the European test reactors.  France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), a major backer at JHR, has also been involved in the others.

EUROPE’S NUCLEAR DOZEN

Also yesterday, the UK and 11 other EU nations in London announced a “Joint Ministerial Communique on Nuclear Energy in Europe” affirming collaboration on making nuclear “a part in the EU’s future low carbon energy mix.”

“It’s vital for our economy that we work with our European partners to make the EU a leading destination for investment in new low-carbon energy infrastructure,” said Ed Davey, the UK’s energy secretary (Hendry’s boss). “This communiqué signals a move to a stronger, better and closer working relationship between Member States on nuclear energy. By working together to enable low carbon energy projects to come forward we will go some way to reducing the EU’s carbon emissions and ensuring greater energy security.”

The 12 countries will hold their next ministerial meeting in the Czech Republic, a country where nuclear research includes a thorium-fueled molten salt reactor.

The 12 are the UK, France, the Czech Republic, Spain, Holland, Finland, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania.

Photo from UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, via Flickr

In Britain, the true meaning of ‘new’ nuclear

Posted by Mark Halper on March 4th, 2013

Nuclear warning. Member of Parliament Tim Yeo says that Britain needs to do more than just “cross its fingers” if it is to get the nuclear power it needs to meet climate goals.

If you’re a supporter of nuclear power, then you’ll probably like the warning issued today by the UK Parliament’s House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee.

And if you’re a fan of alternative nuclear technologies like thorium fuel, molten salt reactors and fast reactors, you’ll probably appreciate the nod the committee gave to alternative forms of nuclear. But you might be left wondering when the nod might turn into a more vigorous, positive shaking of the head up and down.

First, a quick review for those of you not following the blow-by-blow travails of nuclear power in Britain: Nuclear currently supplies about 18 percent of the UK’s electricity, and has a capacity of about 10 gigawatts.  However, all but one of the country’s nuclear plants are scheduled to close by 2023. The government wants a new fleet of nuclear stations that would have a capacity of about 16 gigawatts by 2025

WHO’S GOING TO PAY?

The problem is, the UK privatized its energy sector a long time ago, so the government no longer outright builds these plants itself. That’s the job of companies like France’s EDF, Japan’s Hitachi, and other candidates – Chinese, Russian or Canadian companies could play a role, as could, theoretically others.

Generally speaking, these companies are balking at the chance to invest the billions of pounds required to build a nuclear plant. The closest to committing at the moment is EDF, which says it’s “shovel ready” with two new reactors totaling over 3.3 gigawatts at the Hinkley Point site in southwest England, where costs are estimated at around £14 billion ($21 billion)  – £7 billion ($10.5 billion) for each reactor.

But EDF is waiting for guarantees from the government that it will receive a minimum amount in electricity fees – believed to be around £100 per megawatt hour once it starts operating – a condition that many critics say represents an illegal “subsidy.”

With those challenges in the way, the House committee, chaired by Member of Parliament Tim Yeo, today effectively warned the country to get its act together and build the 16 gigawatts of nuclear by 2025.

Otherwise, it warned of  falling well short of its national commitment to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

“Without these power stations, it will be extremely difficult to meet our low-carbon obligations, and potentially more expensive too,” the committee stated in its report, Building New Nuclear: the challenges ahead.  “A failure to deliver nuclear new build would pose less of a threat to energy security, but there could be some indirect security risks as a result, such as increased reliance on imported gas.”

WAITING FOR THE NUCLEAR FAIRY

The committee accused Prime Minister David Cameron’s government of merely “crossing its fingers” and hoping that private industry comes up with the nuclear goods.

Crossing one’s fingers is not an adequate or responsible approach when the UK’s legally binding climate change commitments and energy security are at stake,” the report stated.  “For a department whose principal priorities are to ensure energy security and carbon reductions, DECC appears to be overly reliant on aspiration and hope. While we share the Minister’s hope that new build will be delivered as planned, we nevertheless recommend that DECC begins exploring contingency options as a matter of urgency.”

Those “contingencies”, or the “Plan B” as the media was calling it today, would include energy efficiency and other energy sources.

We shouldn’t really have to talk about “contingencies.” And some of those Plan B  measures – energy efficiency and a reasonable mix of renewables – should certainly  be part of an energy future – and one that includes a solid dose of nuclear.

But the committee warned that Britain’s nuclear future sits on its own version of a fiscal cliff, because “if this tranche of new nuclear projects is not successful, it could undermine investor confidence in the sector, making it difficult (or impossible) to finance any subsequent attempts at nuclear build.”

THE NEW ‘NEW’

That could, in turn, spell disaster, for any significant research and development of the type of nuclear technologies that ought to really carry the country’s nuclear future – alternatives like thorium, molten salt reactors, pebble bed reactors and fast reactors. Between them, they offer a bevy of advantages over the behemoth conventional water cooled, solid uranium fueled reactors that will cost an estimated $10.5 billion each at Hinkley Point.

I’ve enumerated these benefits many times here on the Weinberg blog, so I’ll simply summarize them now. Each offers some degree of: safer, meltdown proof, more efficient, of producing less waste, of using existing waste as fuel, and of being less expensive. Most of them fit readily into smaller “modular” forms that cut manufacturing costs and make it more affordable for utilities to add power incrementally.

Today’s Commons report acknowledges that thorium molten salt reactors and pebble bed reactors could start making energy contributions after 2030. It acknowledges that fast reactors such as General Electric Hitachi’s PRISM could burn existing nuclear waste. But it pretty much discounts all three from the current discussion for the reasons that they are not getting funding, are not yet ready or not yet commercialized.

It is good to see these alternatives entering the mainstream nuclear discussion in Parliament. It is discouraging to see them pushed to the margins for what feels like convenient, self-defeating reasons. The current challenge of funding nuclear in Britain is an opportunity to shout loudly about these alternatives, to help rebrand nuclear and win over public support.

As I reported last month, a separate government report, due out this month by top scientists including the chief government scientific adviser Sir John Beddington, is expected to encourage the alternatives.

It is phrases like “thorium” and “molten salt”  – not “$10.5 billion giant reactor” – that should start to define “new nuclear.”

Image from timyeo.org.uk via sodburypeople.co.uk

Sir John Beddington, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, has an idea that thorium and other alternative     nuclear technologies could be key to a low carbon future.

A key report by the UK government on the future of nuclear power will recommend a big increase in nuclear generating capacity by 2050, and will encourage the development of reactors that can burn waste and and breed fuel instead of leaving waste, the Weinberg Foundation has learned.

The “Nuclear Research and Development” report for 2050 and beyond, led by chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington in response to a query by the House of Lords, will come on the heels of scathing criticism today that the country’s nuclear waste maintenance operations operates over budget and has spent £67.5 billion ($106.4 billion).

The roadmap will lay out four possible low carbon energy scenarios for the country.

In three of the four, it will call for 75 gigawatts of nuclear output capability, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change told Weinberg in an email. (He did not describe the fourth scenario. See clarifications below).

That’s about 90 percent of the country’s current power capacity, of which nuclear currently comprises about 18 percent while fossil fuels dominate. In 2050, the total capacity will be higher, but 75 gigawatts should represent a significantly greater proportion than today’s 18 percent.

WELCOME ALTERNATIVES

To get there, the country should consider adding technologies other than conventional nuclear reactors that leave waste by burning uranium in large water-cooled reactors – the same fundamental approach that the global nuclear industry has used for 50-some years, the report will recommend.

Instead, reactors that “close” the fuel cycle – breed new fuel – will be key, the report will suggest, as will new fuel cycles based on thorium instead of uranium, which can also run in a “closed” cycle in a molten salt reactor. The report will also call for advances in conventional reactors, or “LWRs” (light water reactors).

The DECC spokesman shared the upcoming recommendations with Weinberg following our story late last week in which we noted that DECC’s chief scientific adviser David MacKay is taking an interest in thorium and in other alternative nuclear technologies, and that he and Beddington would soon publish a report that could encourage those technologies. John Perkins, the scientific adviser to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, is also co-authoring the report.

We asked DECC to elaborate. After we published Friday’s blog, the spokesman alerted us to the 75 gigawatt target.  He said the report’s findings to date note that:

“In order to potentially deliver against the upper end of this scope it is likely that more advanced and diverse options will need to be explored by the market. Such options may include: development of newer fission technologies such as evolutionary LWR’s, small modular reactors (SMRs) or Generation IV ; options for closing the uranium fuel cycle and reprocessing spent fuel; progressing the development of fusion; and consideration of alternative fuel cycles such as Thorium.

“Ensuring that these options are not foreclosed or essential skills lost will be an important long term objective and the R&D Roadmap element of the work will set out a number of pathways and key decision points for any future R&D programmes to consider.”

The DECC spokesman said that Beddington has shared a number of his recommendations with government ministers, and that the government expects to publish the roadmap “within the next few months.”

WASTE NOT

The timing of the pre-release of findings is fitting, given a separate report today that was highly critical of rising costs and delays at the U.K.’s nuclear waste storage facility, called Sellafield.  That assessment, by Parliament’s House of Commons, claimed that Sellafield’s storage, run privately for the government by a company called Nuclear Management Partners, spends £1.6 billion ($2.5 billion) and has ponied up a total of £67.5 billion  ($106.4 billion).

Sellafield has the world’s largest stash of plutonium with about 100 tons, and stores other waste including highly radioactive substances in vitrified glass blocks.

Some of that waste, like the plutonium, could be used in new style reactors. Alternative reactors would also minimize waste and thus greatly reduce the need for waste facilities like Sellafield.

In Britain’s privatized energy sector, scientific advisers like Beddington, MacKay and Perkins would be hoping that industry – the “market” as the pre-report says – would help fund development of the alternatives.

What’s not known is how much – if any – the government might provide for research and development.

Photo  from UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills, via Flickr, of  Sir John Beddington at the UK’s Big Bang Fair, a science gathering for young people.

Clarifications and correction: After this story appeared, DECC clarified that the report does not recommend “a big increase in nuclear generating capacity” per se, as stated in the opening paragraph. Rather, it recommends development of alternative nuclear if Britain is to meet the more more nuclear intensive of four low carbon energy scenarios set out in the government’s Dec. 2011 Carbon Plan aiming for 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050. Only one of those scenarios – not three as stated above –  envisages 75 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2050, which would represent 68 percent of projected total capacity. The other scenarios call for 28, 20 and 10 percent nuclear. 

A government report expected soon on nuclear research and development strategy could help spread the word about alternative nuclear through the long halls of Parliament.

Things got a bit feisty earlier this week in committee room 19 of Britain’s Houses of Parliament, where vocal supporters and opponents pulled no punches as they debated the country’s nuclear power future.

“I just can’t bear all this dodging and ducking and diving – it’s frankly treating us all as if we’re fools,” declared Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP. She accused the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition government of a masquerade  that would provide subsidies to the nuclear industry including French utility EDF, despite the government’s assurances that it won’t subsidize nuclear.

“This, frankly, as a proposition, stinks,” agreed Tom Burke, a visiting professor at University College London’s Centre for Law and Environment, and founding director of sustainability think tank E3G.

Both Lucas and Burke were referring to measures in the government’s proposed Energy Bill aimed at assuring sustainable power. Burke lambasted the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) not only over likely subsidy violations, but also for a duplicitous role in which, he said, DECC is supporting nuclear by betting on rising energy prices while actively trying to drive down prices through a program called the Green Deal.

CLOSED DOOR DEALINGS

Lucas, Burke and other critics assailed the government and EDF for negotiating behind closed doors – a practice Burke suggested was unconstitutional. DECC and EDF are discussing  a “strike price” – a guaranteed rate that EDF would receive for electricity from two new nuclear reactors it is ready to build at the Hinkley Point site in southwest England – under the proposed Energy Bill and its “contracts for difference” provision. It is this strike price that many say constitutes a subsidy, in violation of EU law that prevents state aid to nuclear. The government desperately wants the reactors. EDF says it won’t proceed until it has assurances.

For their part, DECC and EDF couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about.

Memory lane. Ed Davey, Secretary of State for the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change,         strolls through Dounreay, a decommissioned reactor in Scotland, last October. Davey, second from left, is pushing for price guarantees for nuclear. As he walks toward the future, he should also keep an eye on alternative nuclear technologies like thorium and molten salt reactors.

Hergen Haye, DECC’s head of new nuclear and strategy, called the discussions with EDF “legally robust” and said that Parliament will have a chance to fully review the Energy Bill’s proposals for electricity market reform once details like the strike price are worked out, and that the public will be able to scrutinize it.

But Haye said that at the current juncture, “What you don’t do is obviously have negotiations back at the tea hall with the public.  That doesn’t’ work for commercial reasons. We would never ever come to any conclusion.”

The strike price will also hold up to EU subsidy laws, he said.

NUCLEAR FOR LOW CARBON

Likewise, Nigel Knee, EDF’s head of nuclear policy noted that the so-called contract for difference has to be “robust” and has to provide “confidence to investors that there will be a return.” And, he added, “It’s not about subsidy. We’re shovel ready (at Hinkley Point). We’d like to see the legislation finished so that we can make the financial commitments.”

And so on and so on went the back-and-forth debate, which you’re probably assuming was a meeting of the energy committee or of some nuclear power subcommittee within Parliament.

Wrong.

This was a gathering put together by the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, which invited speakers to present on the pros and cons of nuclear, and on the nuclear aspects of the government’s Energy Bill. (It was co-organized by a group called the Nuclear Consulting Group, which, despite its name, comprises members from the nuclear and renewables industry, including anti-nuclear individuals, and which at the time of this writing was prominently featuring pictures of wind turbines on its website).

Of course nothing was settled in the lively hour steered deftly by chairwoman MP Joan Walley, who is also chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, which looks after environmental protection. But one of several things that impressed me among the intermittently compelling and convenient arguments by both sides was that this donnybrook was hosted not by the energy crowd per se, but by those tending to the scourge of climate change.

In other words, nuclear keeps escalating in the “low carbon future” discussion, joining the mindshare that solar and wind and other renewables have traditionally occupied. It reminded me of how environmental group Greenpeace applauded last autumn when the heads of Britain’s nuclear, renewables and carbon capture industry groups joined together to insist that the government write low carbon measures into its then unpublished Energy Bill.

ENERGY EQUALS CLIMATE (BURKE’S LAW)

“Climate change is really the central interest of this All Party Parliamentary Group. We’re all here because we’re interested and conerned about climate change,” EDF’s Knee reminded everyone.

“I agree with Nigel about one thing,” said E3G’s Burke, a former Friends of the Earth executive director and an environmental adviser to mining giant Rio Tinto. “Energy policy is our climate policy. My problem is if we get the wrong energy policy we have the wrong climate policy. And I think where he and his company want to take us gives us the wrong energy.”

And plunge we did back into the debate, which for many simply boiled down to nuclear vs. no nuclear.  (Not so simply for the Liberal Democrats, I should add.  As Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes told the gathering, “We are a party opposed to nuclear.” That’s a paradox, to say the least, for a party that’s part of the governing coalition that’s pushing for eight new nuclear plants. And it is a Liberal Democrat, Ed Davey, who heads DECC and is overseeing the Energy Bill and the nuclear strike price proceedings. Some opposition.)

The packed room grilled EDF’s Knee and DECC’s Haye about how they were going to assure safe handling and storage of nuclear waste, and how they were going to pay for it. Lydia Meryll from the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, a Labour Party affiliated group, pointed out that nuclear decommissioning already takes up more than half of DECC’s annual budget.

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, questioned the competence of EDF, citing huge cost and schedule overruns at the company’s reactor construction site in Flamanville, France, where an originally five year, €3.3 billion project is now estimated at nine years and €8.5 billion.

All good and fair questions.

NUCLEAR CONVERTS

But what all the back and forth really failed to address was a third way, and one that could bridge the gap between the “for” and “against” crowd: Alternative nuclear.

As we are always pointing out here at Weinberg, the nuclear industry has been fundamentally running on the same technology for 50-some years – solid uranium fueled, water cooled reactors. (The pressurized water reactors that EDF wants to build at Hinkley Point are among the latest and improved versions).

While these have a sound safety record, there are other fuels and reactor types that could outperform them in efficiency, safety and in the mitigation of waste.

Reactor designs like molten salt, pebble bed and fast neutron all run at higher temperatures than today’s reactors, which is good from an efficiency standpoint. Some of them can breed their own fuel and use waste as fuel – minimizing the worrisome challenge of what to do with waste.  A molten salt reactor that runs thorium fuel can reduce the risk of producing waste suitable for weapons. And let’s not forget fusion.

Many of these will come in small or “modular” forms, auguring lower upfront costs for utilities or industrial users that can’t afford to add the gigawatt-plus sizes of conventional reactors. Smaller reactors can also potentially be fabricated in less expensive “assembly line” type procedure, reducing costs and attracting investors.

These alternatives are making nuclear believers out of non-believers. Weinberg patron and House of Lords member Baroness Bryony Worthington, for instance, is a former Friends of the Earth anti-nuclear campaigner who is now the West’s most vocal politician advocating thorium use.

Just a thought, but perhaps they could also help any Liberal Democrat trying to square their party’s opposition to nuclear with their coalition-tied backing of it. And that includes Energy Secretary Davey himself.

I didn’t really expect to hear a lot about alternative nuclear at this week’s All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group. And to be clear, alternative fuels and reactors are not currently a market  option. You couldn’t install and run one at Hinkley Point anytime soon, if for no other reason it would take at least seven years to get regulatory approval. And that can’t even begin to happen until research and development on these reactors is complete, which will require funding.

ALTERNATIVE ACTION

But some countries, like China and India are indeed pursuing these alternatives.

It is imperative that others do the same. None of the designs are altogether new – many go back 50 years, but for various political and other reasons, lost the technology race. An R&D push with government backing could help polish them into working order. We have certainly identified various current initiatives around the world in this blog, and will continue to do so.  I invite you to scroll down through our archives (and I apologize that we don’t have a search feature to offer – we’re working on it!).

But before you do, here’s an encouraging word I picked up in the hallway chatter after Tuesday’s gathering: DECC’s chief scientific adviser, David MacKay, is taking an interest in thorium and other alternatives which might soon become more clear.

MacKay, a Cambridge physics professor and author of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, is a level headed thinker with a practical view of energy costs, and is preparing a report on nuclear R&D strategy that should  address alternative nuclear. I’m told he’ll publish it within the next few months. I assume it is the same nuclear roadmap strategy for 2050 and beyond that, last I knew, he was co-authoring  with the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington and with the scientific adviser to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, John Perkins.

They began working on the report as part of the government’s response to a House of Lords query into nuclear’s future.

I will be queuing up for a copy and will let you know as I find out more. So watch this space, right honourable reader. And do speak up with any thoughts, in the comments section below.

Photos: Parliament by Tony Moorey via Wikimedia. Ed Davey at Dounreay from DECC via Flickr.

 

Renewables join forces with nuclear in Britain

Posted by Mark Halper on November 6th, 2012

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven praised the joint letter that the nuclear, renewables and carbon capture industries sent to Energy Secretary Ed Davey, although Sauven stopped short of outright endorsing nuclear. That’s him above talking with Prince Charles at the Glastonbury music festival in 2010.

The debate over whether nuclear power is green landed on “yes” in Britain yesterday, as leaders from the nuclear and renewable industries combined forces to urge the government to take low carbon measures.

Their joint action even received an endorsement from an unlikely source – traditionally anti-nuclear environmental group Greenpeace.

The development marked the second sign in recent weeks that the British public is warming to nuclear power. Late last month, 40 percent of respondents in a UK YouGov/Sunday Times poll said they favored the additional use of nuclear.

This week, the heads of three key industry groups – the Nuclear Industry Association, RenewableUK (it represents wind and marine energy) and the Carbon Capture and Storage Association wrote to Energy Secretary Ed Davey to insist that his imminent energy bill support the groups’ different forms of low carbon power.

“If we are to meet the UK’s energy security and climate change targets it is vital that the momentum is maintained in building new low carbon generation,” states the letter, reprinted by The Guardian newspaper. “We believe the proposed reforms should help raise the necessary investment. Like Government, we believe that a diverse energy mix is likely to be the most cost-efficient pathway to largely decarbonising the power sector, which means investment in nuclear, renewables and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage.”

ENVIRONMENT, JOBS AT RISK

In their letter Keith Parker, Maria McCaffery and Jeff Chapman – CEOs respectively of the nuclear, renewables and carbon capture groups –  also said that the bill should stipulate a large decarbonization in the power sector by 2030. And they warned Davey that jobs are at risk if he delays his bill, because investments will slip.

In a surprise backing, John Sauven,the executive director at Greenpeace UK, noted, “This letter shows that whilst different industries will have differing preferences for the exact mix of energy technologies, there is unity from across huge swathes of the business community on the need for a clear goal in the energy bill to take carbon almost completely out of the electricity system by 2030.”

Sauven – whose remarks were first reported by The Independent newspaper – is right. And while his comments stopped short of a full endorsement of nuclear power, it feels like Greenpeace is budging in that direction. Nuclear is, after all, carbon free.

Teach Greenpeace a few more lessons about the safety, waste and proliferation benefits that alternative nuclear technologies like thorium molten salt reactors have over conventional solid fuel uranium, and the environmental group could be squarely onboard.

Photo: Vanessa Miles, Greenpeace

 

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