Tag Archives: nuclear power plants

One Player, Many Pawns: the thirst for nuclear technology

The Hanhikivi plant in Finland will use Russian nuclear technology. model of the plant from wikipedia

The nuclear power industry, which had been in the doldrums since the 1980s, suffered a devastating blow in 2011 when a tsunami engulfed the Fukushima power plant in Japan, ultimately causing a meltdown. The amount of electricity generated by nuclear power worldwide plunged 11% in two years, and has not recovered since. Within this declining industry, one country now dominates the market for design and export of nuclear plants: Russia.

Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear-power company,  is focused on what some call the “great grand middle”: countries that are close allies of neither the United States nor Russia. In April Russia started building Turkey’s first nuclear plant, worth $20bn. Its first reactor is due for completion in 2023. Rosatom says it has 33 new plants on its order book, worth some $130bn. A dozen are under construction, including in Bangladesh, India and Hungary…. Once completed the plants offer an obvious diplomatic lever in the form of sway over a large portion of a country’s electricty generation… The relationship betweeen exporter and customer is particularly close in a nuclear plant’s early years, when local employees are still being trained and the exporting country is direclty involved in the plant’s operation….

Russia’s nuclear programme has endured for two main reasons. Its designs are cheap, and Rosatom enjoys the backing of the state, which helps it absorb hard-to-insure risks like nuclear meltdowns. Its competitors trail hopelessly: France’s Areva (now Orano) has started building only two plants in the past ten years, in Finland and China; both are delayed and over budget. KEPCO, South Korea’s energy company, is facing a domestic backlash against nuclear power, while Westinghouse, in America, is only now emerging from bankruptcy.

Russia’s only real competitor is China..Yet although China will surely catch up, for now Russia has no serious rivals in the export of nuclear technology. In a world that needs to generate much more electricity from nuclear power if it is to take decarbonisation seriously, that is a sobering though

Excerpts from  Atoms for Peace: Russia and Nuclear Power, Economist, Aug. 4, 2018, at 43

Fukushima Waste not Tainted Anymore?

fukushima

The Chiba Municipal Government of Japan  on June 28, 2016  filed for Environment Ministry approval to lift the radioactive designation for waste stored in the city that was contaminated by the Fukushima reactor meltdowns five years ago.  This marked the first application in Japan seeking to lift the radioactive designation for waste tainted by the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.  The move came after the city found that levels of radioactive materials in the designated waste are lower than the national designation standards of over 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.

At present, designated radioactive waste generated by the nuclear disaster is stored in 12 prefectures in eastern Japan, including Tokyo.

In Chiba, 7.7 tons of designated waste is currently stored at a waste disposal center.The lifting of the designation will allow the city to dispose of the waste the same way as general waste,…

Excerpt from Chiba wants radioactive designation lifted from Fukushima-contaminated waste, The Japan Times, June 29, 2016

Nuclear Reactors: Small + Modular

Small Modular Reactor. Image from http://www.energy.gov/ne/nuclear-reactor-technologies/small-modular-nuclear-reactors

DOE

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are nuclear power plants that are smaller in size (300 MWe or less) than current generation base load plants (1,000 MWe or higher). These smaller, compact designs are factory-fabricated reactors that can be transported by truck or rail to a nuclear power site. SMRs will play an important role in addressing the energy security, economic and climate goals of the U.S. if they can be commercially deployed within the next decade….

Because of their smaller size, they also can use passive safety systems and be built underground to limit the dangers of radioactive leaks. The modular design could allow parts of the plant to be made in a factory to ensure consistent design and cheaper costs.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) (see also TVA) is in a joint pilot project with the U.S. Department of Energy to help test the new technology. Dan Stout, senior manager of SMR technology at TVA, said working with DOE to test the new power plant “is part of TVA’s mission,” although he said any final decision will require that the power source is also cost effective. “We’re focused on providing an option that provides reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy, and so we want to pursue this early site permit to give us the option for possibly locating SMRs on the site for 10 to 20 years,” Stout said.

Excerpts from US Department of Energy

and Oak Ridge could take lead in new TVA nuclear design, but critics question secrecy, need

The Cost of Decommissioning Nuclear Reactors

Reactor pressure vessel transported from site for burial. Image from wikipedia

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said late in 2014  (pdf) that almost 200 of the 434 reactors in operation around the globe would be retired by 2040, and estimated the cost of decommissioning them at more than $100 billion.  But many experts view this figure as way too low, because it does not include the cost of nuclear waste disposal and long-term storage and because decommissioning costs – often a decade or more away – vary hugely per reactor and by country…. The IEA’s head of power generation analysis, Marco Baroni, said that even excluding waste disposal costs, the $100 billion estimate was indicative, and that the final cost could be as much as twice as high. He added that decommissioning costs per reactor can vary by a factor of four.Decommissioning costs vary according to reactor type and size, location, the proximity and availability of disposal facilities, the intended future use of the site, and the condition of the reactor at the time of decommissioning.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that the cost of decommissioning in the United States – which has some 100 reactors – ranges from $300 million to $400 million per reactor, but some reactors might cost much more.  France’s top public auditor and the nuclear safety authority estimate the country’s decommissioning costs at between 28 billion and 32 billion euros ($32-37 billion).  German utilities – such as E.ON, which last month said it would split in two, spinning off power plants to focus on renewable energy and power grids – have put aside 36 billion euros. .  Britain’s bill for decommissioning and waste disposal is now estimated at 110 billion pounds ($167 billion) over the next 100 years, double the 50 billion pound estimate made 10 years ago.  Japanese government estimates put the decommissioning cost of the country’s 48 reactors at around $30 billion, but this is seen as conservative. Russia has 33 reactors and costs are seen ranging from $500 million to $1 billion per reactor.

Excerpt, Global nuclear decommissioning cost seen underestimated, may spiral, Reuters, Jan, 19, 2014

Nuclear Protests in India, NGOs and Foreign Money

This week police in Kudankulam, in southern Tamil Nadu, fired at thousands of anti-nuclear protesters on the beach, killing a fisherman. The locals were opposing a new, Russian-designed, 2,000MW nuclear plant, India’s biggest, which is now being filled with fuel. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 10,000 Indians. Now fears grow of another big wave that could bring a Fukushima-style disaster.  Protesters also claim harassment, saying officials have slapped sedition notices against 8,000 who have dared speak out. Opposition has flared before. The state’s chief minister, Jayaram Jayalalitha, once backed the protests but has now swung in favour of the plant—perhaps betting that anger over power shortages trumps anti-nuclear outbursts.

The reaction of the national government, under the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has been mixed. Committees of investigation called the plant safe. The High Court in Chennai heard, and ruled against, a petition by locals over safety. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal.  The government’s argument that politicians not protesters should decide the country’s energy mix is reasonable. But, twitchy at criticism, it veered off in suggesting opponents merely did the bidding of a foreign hand. Mr Singh, in an interview with a science magazine in February, blamed protests on NGOs, “mostly I think based in the United States”. A tough new law is in force, severely restricting foreign money going to local NGOs.  Mr Singh’s frostiness is best understood in the context of America’s moans that a civil-nuclear deal signed with India has not led to American investors getting energy contracts. Strict liability laws scare its private investors, whereas government-backed ones, such as Russians, feel more secure. Could Mr Singh be implying that American activists are stirring the trouble in Kudankulam because the plant is Russian-built?

Nuclear Power in India: The Kudankulam conundrum, Economist, Sept. 15,2012, at 39

Nuclear Deals: India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group

Confident in the large market it offers to the world’s nuclear suppliers, India has decided to shrug off new restrictions by a 46-nation cartel on the transfer of uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies that potentially have military applications.

India, which has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) on the grounds that it is discriminatory, pulled off a diplomatic coup in 2008 by securing a special waiver from the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).  Following a plenary in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the NSG announced on Jun. 24 that it would “strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies,” diluting the clean waiver granted to India and exempting it from full-scope international safeguards.  Nuclear energy experts in India told IPS that the NSG’s move may be prompted by commercial concerns and an attempt to squeeze India into buying nuclear equipment in a market rapidly narrowing down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

“Given the present climate for nuclear energy, countries like France, Russia and the United States, which have already signed major nuclear commerce deals with India, are unlikely to back off”….India has ambitious plans to raise its nuclear power generation from the current 4.7 gigawatts to over 20 Gw by 2020. Besides Areva, Russia’s Rosatom and General Electric from the U.S. are among corporations negotiating for deals worth more than 100 billion dollars.

In an apparent warning to the NSG, India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told television interviewers on Sunday that there are “leverages” that could be applies to countries unwilling to enter into nuclear commerce with India.  Rao said the U.S., Russia and France had, since the NSG announced its new policy, made known that they would stand by their commitments to India.  French ambassador to India Jerome Bonnafont confirmed in a Jul. 1 press statement that “this NSG decision in no way undermines the parameters of our bilateral cooperation,” and that France remained “committed to the full implementation of our cooperation agreement on the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy signed on Sep. 30, 2008.”Coming after the decision of exemption from the full-scope safeguards clause, adopted in favour of India in September 2008, it (NSG decision) does not undermine the principles of this exemption,” the statement said.

Excerpt, Ranjit Devraj, INDIA: Unfazed by Nuclear Suppliers’ New Rules, Inter Press Service, July 6, 2011