Tag Archives: nuclear renaissance

The Aggressive Indigenization of Nuclear Energy: China

YJNPS at Dongpin Town, China

China General Nuclear Power (CGN), a state-owned enterprise (SOE) that is the country’s largest nuclear firm, is planning to float shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange on December 10th. Market rumours suggest it will raise well over $3 billion. Dealogic, a research firm, reckons this is likely to be the biggest listing in Hong Kong as well as the largest utility IPO globally so far this year.

Some see in the flotation a harbinger of a nuclear renaissance. If true, this would bring cheer to a gloomy industry. The shale-gas revolution has undercut the economics of building new nuclear reactors in North America. And since the deadly tsunami and nuclear fiasco at the Fukushima site in Japan nearly four years ago, confidence in this technology has waned in many places. Germany, for example, is getting out of nuclear power (see article).

China put a moratorium on new plants after that accident too, but the boosters have now prevailed over the doubters. The State Council, the country’s ruling body, wants a big expansion of nuclear power along the country’s coast to triple capacity by 2020 (see map). This plan is not as ambitious as before Fukushima, but Moody’s, a credit-ratings agency, nevertheless calls it an “aggressive nuclear expansion”. Some analysts look beyond 2020 and predict an even bigger wave of nuclear power plants will be built in inland provinces, giving a boost to this type of energy worldwide….One factor that could slow growth is cost. In the past Chinese governments were happy to throw endless pots of money at favoured state firms in industries deemed “strategic”. Times are changing, however. Economic growth is slowing, and the government must now deal with massive debts left over from previous investment binges. Since the export-oriented and investment-led model of growth is sputtering, officials may soon be keen to boost domestic consumption rather than merely shovel subsidised capital at big investment projects.

And it is not just that China may—and should—be starting to pay attention to the true cost of infrastructure projects. Rapid technological advances are also making low-carbon alternatives to nuclear power appear more attractive. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an industry publisher, forecasts that onshore wind will be the cheapest way to make electricity in the country by 2030. Though coal will remain China’s leading fuel for some time, Bloomberg’s analysts think that renewables could produce three times as much power as nuclear in the country by that year.

What is more, as a latecomer, China had the chance to standardise designs of new nuclear plants to gain economies of scale and minimise risk. But rather than build copies of safe and proven designs from Westinghouse of America or Areva of France, it is insisting on “indigenisation”. This approach is in line with China’s desire to create national champions in key industries, as it has in high-speed rail.

Excerpts from Nuclear power in China Promethean perils, Economist, Dec. 6, 2014, at 75

Nuclear Renaissance in Africa

Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, South Africa, Image from wikipedia

At least three African nations are looking to add nuclear power to their grid. Kenya and Nigeria want to establish nuclear energy, and South Africa, the only sub-Saharan nation with nuclear facilities, is looking to expand its capabilities. Until now, African nations have relied on age-old forms of energy generation: Hydropower and coal among them. But those sources have taken a social and environmental toll, displacing communities. But does Africa have the means to turn on nuclear power?…This dire need for power has pushed many African nations to consider nuclear energy – increasingly popular in developing and developed nations such as the U.S., India and China.

Kelvin Kemm, a South African nuclear physicist, said Africa needs to look beyond traditional sources, such as water and hydrocarbons.  “Africa is very largely fueled with hydropower. And in Africa it’s possible to have droughts that last a couple of years,” he said. “Therefore it’s very risky to build an economy on hydropower. Many are not fortunate enough to have coal and gas, and therefore nuclear is an ideal solution for Africa.”

South Africa is the only African nation to have successfully developed nuclear technology, and gave up its weapons program in the 1990s. Today, the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station produces about 5 percent of the nation’s electricity.  President Jacob Zuma said he wants more nuclear power to decrease the nation’s reliance on coal.  “We expect to conclude the procurement of 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy,” he said.  Kenya and Nigeria say they too are building their nuclear programs to meet rising electricity needs from their burgeoning populations.

According to Kemm, the power needs in Africa are so dire that ordinary power sources can’t meet demand the way nuclear power can.  “They need to double electricity consumption immediately, and then double it again, and again and again for their people,” he said…

France-based Vincent Industrie sells complicated components that are necessary to make a nuclear plant run. But sales manager Frederic Marrone, noted that you don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to see why many impoverished African nations are slow to implement nuclear technology.  The problem, he said, is cost.  “We speak about Billions,” he explained. “How much, I don’t know, depending on the size, but just for us, equipment, we provide only equipment. For this, we speak about five million euros of equipment to manufacture only one part.”

Africa Looks to Nuclear Power to Light Up Continent,  AllAfrica.com, Mar. 27, 2014

Nuclear Safety and the Fradulent Quality Certificates

South Korea’s ambitious nuclear energy program is under intensive scrutiny and criticism after the discovery of microscopic cracks in the structure of a nuclear power plant and forgery of quality certificates vouching for thousands of components in at least two reactors.  Officials in all three major agencies responsible for monitoring the program said Friday there’s no danger to nuclear safety, but the government ordered the shutdown of the two reactors with the uncertified parts. At the same time, the head of the state company overseeing the program, Korea Electric Power Corp. has resigned for what he said were personal reasons.

A sequence of problems at a nuclear power plant on the southwestern coast fueled rising doubts about a program that’s been a centerpiece of the government’s energy policy since the first reactors went on line more than 30 years ago. Korea counts on nuclear energy for 30 percent of its electrical power, but critics are now demanding the government shut down some of the older plants and pull back from plans to build enough reactors to fulfill half the country’s power needs.  “I am worried about safety standards,” says Lee Chang-choon, who served as South Korea’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency during his long diplomatic career. “I do not have confidence and trust in the care of sensitive machinery operations.”

The trouble seemed to begin at the nuclear power plant at Yeonggwang where inspectors this week reported thousands of  “noncore components” were installed on the basis of fraudulent quality certificates. The Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation, which operates Korea’s four nuclear power plants, including 23 reactors, promised to replace all the parts by the end of the year while asking prosecutors to investigate alleged bribery.

Compounding the difficulties at the Yeonggwang plant, the ministry also reported the discovery of microscopic cracks in passages linking control rods to one of the reactors. An official at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation said the cracks affected warning signals on control panels but not operation of the reactors…

The underlying problem, however, is that South Korea has virtually no oil or natural gas deposits and is running out of coal. Nuclear power has long been seen as the only way to meet the demands of a growing industrial economy. Hong Suk-woon, Korea’s knowledge and economy minister, warned of severe power cuts that might affect industry and individual consumers as a result of shutdown of the two Yeonggwang reactors….

Others are still more critical. Yun Sun-jin, a professor who teaches courses on energy policy at Seoul National University, accuses the Korea Hydro Nuclear Power Corporation of placing higher priority on output with reduced emphasis on safety.  “They are decreasing the time for periodic overhaul of reactors,” she says. “They think a high operation rate means a more competitive strategy.”  She agrees with the view of the nongovernmental Korea Federation for the Environment that the government should shut down older plants and cancel plans to build new ones.  “We cannot believe nuclear power plants are safe,” says Yang-yi Won-young, in charge of the organization’s “nuclear phase-out” campaign. “The government says nuclear energy is the cheapest and cleanest, but they don’t take account of the cost of getting rid of nuclear waste.”…An official at the ministry of knowledge and economy listed 60 forged quality certificates since 2003 including more than 7,600 components, 98.4 percent of which, he says, were for the Yeonggwang plant. “These are noncore parts,” he says, including fuses, switches, and resistors that cannot be used for the core safety-related facility” and therefore “posing no threat of radiation leakage.”  The government, he adds, “will prepare and implement a comprehensive package of measures as soon as possible starting later this month to cope with the possible power shortages during this winte

Excerpts, By Donald Kirk,, Cracks at South Korean nuclear plant raise safety concerns, Reuters, Nov. 9, 2012

Nuclear Renaissance on Track Despite Fukushima

According to a 2012 OECD/NEA and IAEA report: Although the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident has affected nuclear power projects and policies in some countries, nuclear power remains a key part of the global energy mix. Several governments have plans for new nuclear power plant construction, with the strongest expansion expected in China, India, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation. The speed and magnitude of growth in generating capacity elsewhere is still to be determined.

By the year 2035, according to the joint NEA-IAEA Secretariat, world nuclear electricity generating capacity is projected to grow from 375 GWe net (at the end of 2010) to between 540 GWe net in the low demand case and 746 GWe net in the high demand case, increases of 44% and 99% respectively. Accordingly, world annual reactor-related uranium requirements are projected to rise from 63 875 tonnes of uranium metal (tU) at the end of 2010 to between 98 000 tU and 136 000 tU by 2035. The currently defined uranium resource base is more than adequate to meet high-case requirements through 2035 and well into the foreseeable future.

Although ample resources are available, meeting projected demand will require timely investments in uranium production facilities. This is because of the long lead times (typically in the order of ten years or more in most producing countries) required to develop production facilities that can turn resources into refined uranium ready for nuclear fuel production.

With uranium production ready to expand to new countries, efforts are being made to develop transparent and well-regulated operations similar to those used elsewhere to minimise potential environmental and local health impacts….

Excerpt, Uranium 2011: Resources, Production and Demand A Joint Report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency, OECD, 2012

Nuclear Futures: Risks of industry-state collusion and geological instability

A year after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Taiwan finds itself, like many countries around the world, having to make a difficult choice between retreating from nuclear energy or committing further to it.  Yet no other country faces quite the same set of circumstances shared by the two East Asian neighbors, a combination of need and risk that guarantees whatever decision is made will be painful…

Taiwan has three nuclear power stations, two in the north and one in the south. All have operated safely and profitably for many years while providing nearly 20 percent of the island’s electricity.  But the facilities are getting old — the oldest is slated for decommissioning in 2018 and another in 2019.  Construction of a fourth plant began in 1998 in New Taipei City on the northeast coast, but various shutdowns due to engineering problems and policy reversals have delayed its completion.  The builder and operator of the facility, Taiwan Power Co., recently agreed to hire Japanese technicians to resolve problems discovered during construction, with officials hoping the new facility will become operational by 2014.  These technicians will be available because of the Japanese government’s freeze on new nuclear projects following the Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns — a policy many in Taiwan wish their government would also adopt.

Many of the arguments against the new plant in New Taipei City are the same ones made by opponents of nuclear energy worldwide. Some say it is too expensive, with overruns pushing the cost to nearly 300 billion New Taiwan dollars ($10 billion), nearly double initial projections.  Others point to the irresolvable problems of radiation leaks and disposal of nuclear waste.  Some criticize the facility because of its proximity to the island’s densely populated north. Others point out the length of time the project has taken to complete, meaning that its design and equipment have already become outdated.

Taiwanese authorities have tried to address the concerns, heightening official oversight and granting access to the press and nongovernmental agencies. A temporary facility for low-level radioactive waste is already operating on Orchid Island off Taiwan’s southeastern coast and the first interim dry storage facility for spent fuel rods will be completed at the reactor site in the latter part of this year for operation from 2013. [See also Nuclear Waste Exports]

Opponents are skeptical, however, and none more so than those who live near the new plant. They question the lack of a comprehensive disaster-management plan and express a deep distrust of authorities from whom they foresee the same slack regulation and industry-government collusion that doomed Fukushima No. 1.  “A lesson we learn from Japan’s nuclear disaster is that we can only depend on ourselves,” said a local resident who gave only his surname, Wu.

Of course, the most glaring similarity with Japan is not Taiwan’s regulatory shortcomings, but their mutual geological instability — both are at the convergence of major tectonic plates on the western Pacific Rim….  Similar [to Fukushima] natural disasters have occurred in Taiwan in the past and some worry about history repeating itself….

The most compelling argument in favor of nuclear development in Taiwan is again one it shares with Japan — there is little alternative.  As a modern industrial economy, Taiwan, like its neighbor, depends on cheap, reliable electrical power while possessing virtually no indigenous sources of fuel for generation.  Taiwan imports 99 percent of its energy, most of it coal, oil and natural gas. If it phases out nuclear power production by 2025, as critics propose, the Ministry of Economic Affairs estimates the additional cost to generate electricity with alternative energy sources would be more than NT$480 billion from 2014 to 2030.  If the electricity generated by the three nuclear power plants were eliminated, reserve capacity would drop from 20 percent to 6 percent, Taipower claims.

Excerpts, By KO SHU-LING, Taiwan, Japan share atomic power dilemma, Japan Times, Apr. 11, 2012

Fukushima Decontamination: lengthy and costly

Japan faces the daunting task of decontaminating large areas of land around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, which is still leaking low levels of radiation nearly six months after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown.  In a meeting with local officials on Saturday, the government estimated it could take more than 20 years before residents could safely return to areas with current radiation readings of 200 millisieverts per year, and a decade for areas at 100 millisieverts per year.  The estimates, which merely confirm what many experts have been saying for months, are based on the natural decline of radiation over time and do not account for the impact of decontamination steps such as removing affected soil….The Japanese government unveiled guidelines this week with the aim of halving radiation in problem areas in two years, but for spots with very high readings it could take much longer to reach safe levels….Japan has banned people from entering within 20 km (12 miles) of the Fukushima plant, located 240 km northeast of Tokyo. Around 80,000 people have been evacuated since the March 11 quake and tsunami and many are living in shelters or temporary homes.

The government’s announcement follows the release of data this week showing radiation readings in 35 spots in the evacuation zone above the 20 millisieverts per year level deemed safe by the government. The highest reading was 508 millisieverts in the town of Okuma, about 3 km from the nuclear plant.  Kan, who resigned on Friday [Aug. 26, 2011] as leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan amid intense criticism of his handling of the nuclear crisis, also told Sato that the government planned to build a temporary storage facility in Fukushima for radioactive waste.

The accident at the Fukushima plant is likely to have released about 15 percent of the radiation released at Chernobyl in 1986, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has estimated.But that is still more than seven times the amount of radiation produced by Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979, and experts have estimated Japan’s decontamination efforts could cost as much as 10 trillion yen ($130 billion).

Osamu Tsukimori and Nathan Layne, Reuters, Aug. 27, 2011

The Future of Nuclear Industry after Fukushima:unbeatable renaissance

US investors have been far too focused on the domestic policy toward nuclear power plants and the long lead time required building new reactors. But the reality is that the nation has only one new reactor under construction right now and nine in advanced stages of planning. Compare that to the 27 reactors under construction in China and the 50 additional reactors in advanced stages of planning.  While the US has growth stories of its own, the growth story for nuclear power, much like the growth story for oil and natural gas demand, is centered in the emerging markets.

61 reactors are under construction around the world, with a total maximum capacity of 65 GW. Furthermore, as Jim Fink describes in his recent Investing Daily article, Investing in Nuclear Power Remains a Compelling Choice , in addition to the 61 nuclear reactors under construction right now, 150 more are planned to come online over the next 10 years.

China is home to almost half of all nuclear power capacity (measured in GW) under construction. If we add in India, Russia and South Korea, the total jumps to well over 80 percent. The US, France, Canada and other developed markets are building reactors, but these projects account for only a tiny share of the 65 GW of capacity under construction.

Emerging markets have been even more vociferous in their defense of nuclear power. Five days after the earthquake crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, China halted approvals for new reactors until a safety review could be conducted and new safety plans put in place. But inspections are already winding down, and the country plans to release its new safety plan and resume approvals in August. Senior Chinese officials have indicated that the country will meet its target of 70 GW of nuclear power capacity by 2020 despite the post-Fukushima freeze.  China can rightfully claim that its fleet of reactors is among the safest in the world because the country is building third-generation plants such as the Westinghouse AP1000, an advanced reactor that can be cooled without access to external power sources. This feature would have prevented the partial meltdown at Fukushima.

Russia also ordered a safety review of its nuclear power plants, but the government has unequivocally stated that it will not abandon nuclear power and will continue to build new power plants. Russia also continues to build plants in other nations, including planned Russian-designed reactors in Turkey and Belarus. In fact, the latter deal was inked after the earthquake hit Fukushima Dai-ichi.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has long been a proponent of nuclear power and has criticized Germany’s anti-nuclear stance on several occasions. For example, at a conference in late 2010, Putin chided German business leaders about the country’s plan to gradually phase out its nuclear reactors, observing that “The German public does not like the nuclear power industry for some reason” and adding “I cannot understand what fuel you will take for heating.” He followed up this comment with an incisive joke: You do not want gas, you do not develop the nuclear power industry, so you will heat with firewood?…Then you will have to go to Siberia to buy the firewood.”

But Germany’s decision to accelerate the closure of its nuclear plants will have Russian gas producers laughing all the way to the bank: Germany will need to import more natural gas to offset lost nuclear power capacity and provide baseload power to support the country’s growing dependence on renewable energy sources. Germany already imports more than half of its natural gas from Russia.  Russia’s aggressive build-out of nuclear plants in recent years is partly motivated by a desire to free up more natural gas for export. Ironically, this means that Russia is building nuclear power plants to support Germany’s efforts to shut down its domestic reactors.

Finally, India also ordered a safety review of its nuclear reactors, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has emphasized repeatedly that India must make use of nuclear power to meet its growing demand for electricity and emissions targets. Singh stated that safety standards for new Indian reactors would be world-class and that the country stands by its target of increasing nuclear capacity from about 5,000 megawatts ( MW ) today to 20,000 MW by 2020. Singh stated that further expansion is possible after 2020, though no firm decisions have been made.

In the immediate aftermath of Fukushima, many speculated that the Fukushima disaster would strangle the global nuclear renaissance. This jaundiced projection hasn’t come to fruition. Countries that were already anti-nuclear have hardened their stance, but the growth story is intact in China, India, Russia and other emerging markets. In short, the worst accident since Chernobyl has had a surprisingly modest impact on the global nuclear power industry.

Elliott Gue, Developing Markets Driving Growth for Nuclear Energy, NASDAQ, Aug. 3, 2011