Renew On Line (UK) 26
Extracts from the May-June
2000 edition of Renew
|Welcome Archives Bulletin|
With Germany now set to complete its nuclear phase out by 2016 and most of the other nuclear programmes in Europe being wound down, or phased out, it's tempting to think that it's all over for nuclear power- at least in the West.
The usual criticism of nuclear power is that its expensive, risky and on the decline. However, it's been trying to fight back. For example, by prodigious efforts, the UK nuclear industry has made a dent in at least one of these criticisms. Since the privatisation programme began in 1990, it has managed to increase productivity, so that output has increased steadily. With Sizewell 'B' now on line, it's up to around 27% of UK electricity- making nuclear power the largest single electricity source in the UK.
In parallel, the economics of nuclear operations have been improved, although here the story is less straight forward. In the last stage of privatisation, British Energy was in effect given Sizewell B at around half price - and the AGR's were thrown in for free. It would be difficult for the economics not too look good in that situation, even if the industry had not reorganised and streamlined itself. However, these gains seem likely only to be short term. Gradually the cost of waste processing and decommissioning will begin to bite, and although, given that their capital costs have long since been paid off, the Magnox and AGR's will be cheap to run, they will reach the end of their operational lives by around 2015 (see below). That would leave just Sizewell B, and after that, presumably, nothing. Even so, for the moment, the UK nuclear generation industry remains a significant player in the energy game- and in the longer term, given all the waste that has been created, there is going to be some sort of nuclear industry in the UK (and elsewhere) for centuries .
Magnox and Thorp to rescue each other?
Prior to the debacle over MOX (see Renew 124), British Nuclear Fuels came up with a plan to try to provide work for its THORP reprocessing plant by introducing a new fuel, Magrox, so as to improve its economics for the proposed privatisation exercise. There were supposed to be sufficient contracts for reprocessing reactor fuel from abroad until 2004, although after that orders fall off- and the new crisis may have made the situation even worse, with Germany also now complaining about the quality assurance of MOX fuel supplied by BNFL, and Sweden also refusing to use it. So maybe the new plan will be seen as even more important.
Currently the magnox alloy clad uranium metal fuel used in the UKs now very elderly Magnox reactors (thats what gives them there name) cant be recycled by THORP- they go to a separate and older plant, B205, and this reprocessing exercise is very messy- it is where the bulk of Sellafields wastes are created. However BNFL has come up with a new uranium oxide fuel for the Magnox reactors that can be be reprocessed by THORP. Its called Magrox. The new BNFL plan would not only keep THORP busy, but it would also allow the Magnox reactors to run for longer. As it is at present they would have to be closed sometime between 2007 and 2010 since the old B205 reprocessing plant is to to be closed in order to meet to international agreements on emissions. However, not everyone is happy with using the new fuel in the Magnox reactors. Evidently they would have to operate at higher temperatures- which, coupled with extending the operating life of these reactors yet again, could, say Greenpeace, increase risks.
That does seem likely given that these are very old, already de-rated reactors. But not to worry, according to the Observer (7/11/99) BNFL has applied to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to run a test on Magrox at its Calder Hall reactor at Sellafield - which was opened in 1956.
.. or phase them both out?
Magrox may be too late for some of the Magnox however, there are reports that the Bradwell Magnox is to close in 2002. The reactor, on the Essex coast, started operations in 1962. There had been plans to update the reactor to allow it to extend its licence until 2012, but evidently it is not now seen as economically viable. Decommissioning is likely to take up to four years. It may be worth noting in passing that this would leave a 245 MW grid link running down to the sea, handy for the offshore windfarm proposed on Gunfleet Sands.
Meanwhile, SHE, the long running Stop Hinkley Expansion group, now known just as Stop Hinkley, is campaigning for the Hinkley Magnox to be closed- on the the basis of the fact that the Magnox at Trawsfynydd in Snowdon National Park was closed eight years ago because of concerns about cracks in the pressure vessel. How come then, they ask, are we being asked to consider extended the life of this and the remaining Magnox to 50 years? Details from Jim Duffy 0198 632109.
The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate recently raised some questions about BNFLs activities at Hinkley - and at Sellafield- so, one way or another, BNFL seems to be under seige.
TURKISH NUCLEAR REGRESSION
Turkey is currently a candidate for membership of the European Union, but it seems to have mistaken the message from Europe on nuclear power - its considering developing a nuclear power programme, just when Europe is moving away from nuclear power. Greenpeace has been lobbying hard to try to alter this situation, and, along with the EWEA, recently met with the Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to stress the need for Turkey to follow countries which are adopting renewable energy sources for the future. He was evidently impressed by the statistics showing how Spain has developed its windpower sector rapidly over the last four years. This clearly held great promise to a country like Turkey, which has the largest wind potential in Europe.
According to Dr. Tanay Sidki Uyar, of the University of Kocaeli, "If the right political steps are taken, it would be realistic to install 20,000 MW of wind energy in Turkey by the year 2020, twice the amount of the planned nuclear capacity. The economic benefits multiply when considering the savings made on the environment and public safety and the number of jobs created locally. Turkey has the wind potential of at least double the installed capacity today".
Greenpeace argue that energy efficiency and renewable energy sources are the only realistic solution to the energy crisis Turkey faces today since they can be phased-in within a few years. In contrast, nuclear reactors would take approximately ten years to build and double that to pay off. They cannot compete in the western electricity markets without the billions of dollars of subsidies they have enjoyed in some countries like France. They add that The risks of a nuclear disaster in an earthquake-prone country are too high to allow the government the nuclear option.