Renew On Line (UK) 56
Extracts from NATTA's journal
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10. Nuclear News
Uranium price rises
The price of uranium reached an all time high of $21.75 per pound earlier this year, and looks set to increase by 25% due to reduced stockpiles and increased demand from China’s expanding nuclear programme- it has four new reactors planned and more are envisaged: see below. An industry insider told Bloomberg News (5/1/05) that around the world “most reactors under construction haven’t secured long-term supply and there is no inventory left among utilities”.
Commercial stockpiles fell 50% between 1985 and 2003 because mine output could not keep up with demand, according to a report last Sept. by the MIT. Bloomberg News said that concern about shortages may lead prices to rise to $27 a pound, and there were forecasts of a rise $30 a pound longer term. In Dec. 2000 it was $7.10.
EPR ups & downs
Finlands plan to build one of the new Franco-German designed European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPR), may yet come unstuck given a challenge that its financial backing arrangements may infringe EU competition and state aid rules. But Turkey is now said to be interested in building 3 EPR’s- the WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor suggested that this might be part of a deal with France in exchange for support for Turkeys entry into the EU. France meanwhile is planning to build one EPR at Flamanville in Normandy, possibly as a beginning of a new nuclear programme- subject to getting the necessary agreements.
France trying to sell EDF
France is struggling over the proposed part privatisation of the state owned energy company EDF (up to 30%) and the Areva nuclear company (up to 40%). It’s complicated by the fact that EDF has bought up large swaths of the UK energy sector, has complex problems associated with its large nuclear liabilities, and it has a stake in Italian counterpart Edison. But around Euro 20bn might be raised by this partial sell-off. Margaret Thatcher did the same to the CEGB back in 1989- and that almost killed off nuclear power. Reviewing the UK energy scheme, the Times’ financial commentator said (21/1/05), that ‘The stock exchange-style power market since introduced by Ofgem, the industry regulator, made any capital-intensive minority form of generation much riskier. It duly sank British Energy during a period of unsustainably low market prices. In a free market. any new capacity would be predominantly gas fired, because its costs vary with the price-setting majority. Tony Blair did for wind power what Baroness Thatcher did for nuclear. Under any market-clearing price system, government would have to give artificial protection and guarantees to stimulate the heavy investment needed to build any new stations.’
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has reopened a debate over whether Italy should use nuclear energy, saying the country was penalised by over reliance on imported energy. Following a referendum in 1987, after Chernobyl, Italy’s nuclear plants were shut down. But the power blackout in Sept. 2003 led to worries about security of supply.
China has plans to build 27 new reactors by 2020- nearly two a year (2 GW p.a.), a pace comparable to the peak of the USA’s nuclear energy expansion in the 1970’s. By 2010, planners predict a quadrupling of nuclear output to 16 billion kWh and a doubling of that figure by 2015. China’s has eight nuclear plants in operation at present supplying less than 2% of electricity demand. However, given China’s massive economic expansion, even if the national plan is fulfilled, by 2020 nuclear energy would still only meet under 4% of demand.
One idea is to use the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor design- China has developed a 10MW prototype and wants to move on to a 200MW system by 2010: see the Technology section of Renew 156 for details and progress on South Africa’s PMBR- which has been slowed by local opposition groups. For example, Earthlife Africa have challenged its economic feasibility.
By contrast, China’s nuclear planners don’t seem to need to get public approval. The New York Times (15/1/05) noted that ‘There has been almost no public discussion of the merits and risks of nuclear energy here, as the government strictly censors news coverage of such issues.. But critics question whether such a small payoff warrants exposure to the risk of catastrophic failures, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and the still unresolved problems of radioactive waste disposal.’ They quoted a nuclear energy expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing: “We don’t have a very good plan for dealing with spent fuel, and we don’t have very good emergency plans for dealing with catastrophe.”
UK Nuclear Developments
* “Nuclear’s time is about to come. By this time next year, I expect there to be a nuclear White Paper” Martin O’Niel, Chair Trade & Industry Select Committee,
* British Energy is rethinking the proposal to close the Dungeness B Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor in Kent in two years time. Opened in 1984, it has the worst operational record of the group’s 8 nuclear plants. British Energy had £87m loss in its first quarterly results for 2005, up from the £10m loss last year.
* An £8m grant for local economic renewal has been agreed following the closure of the Chapelcross nuclear complex. Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise said the cash could generate an additional £50m of private sector investment and create 2,500 jobs over the next decade.
* BNFL’s reprocessing plant, THORP, has been shut down so that a major internal leak can be cleaned up. It could take months.
King on Nuclear
The UK Governments Chief Scientist, Sir David King told the Independent (17/1/05): “The problem with (nuclear power) is twofold. One is, what do we do with nuclear waste? And second, where does public acceptability stand? Chernobyl has created in the minds of many a very negative view of nuclear technology. I don’t think it’s the right view; the number of deaths from coal production vastly exceeds the number from all accidents in nuclear power production. I think responsible government has to see whether we can manage to work without nuclear power, and that’s precisely what we are doing.”
Lords on Nuclear
Last year, the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology produced a damning report on the approach being adopted by CoRWM the government appointed Committee on Radioactive Waste Management claiming, in effect, that it represented just another way of delaying a decision on where to put the waste (see Renew 155). CoRWM is not scheduled to report until 2006 and the government has indicated that a decision would not follow until 2008. When the Lords debated the issue in January, Lord Flowers argued that, in effect, that the criteria the 1976 Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution had produced under his chairmanship, had now been met. The Commision had famously said that “There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future”.
He argued that in the intervening 30 years much had changed: “First, the very large nuclear programme being considered in those days has now shrunk, at least for the time being, to no more than the replacement of our old nuclear stations as they fall out of use. Secondly, the nuclear reactors nowadays being contemplated produce much less waste than the reactors to be replaced and are much more economically competitive. Thirdly, the reprocessed waste is nowadays being vitrified in containers that protect it from the environment for decades to come, thus making it much safer to handle and to dispose of. Fourthly, a method to ensure safe disposal for the indefinite future- namely, underground storage- has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt in other countries, especially Finland....Fifthly, and finally, there has emerged since 1976 a danger much more serious than those arising from the remaining uncertainties concerning disposal methods. One must now set those dangers against the well established consequences of global warming. This arises to a considerable extent simply because for too long much of the world has turned away from nuclear power in favour of the large-scale burning of oil and gas as well as coal, and of grossly inflated estimates of the availability of so-called renewable energy. In those circumstances, resolving the remaining issues of nuclear waste disposal and deciding on the precise procedures that will be adopted in this country must no longer be presented, as the Minister, Mr Morley, did to us, as a “pre-requisite” for deciding in principle the future of nuclear power in this country.’ He concluded “The Government have promised to “keep the nuclear option open”. What we need now, however, is not a nuclear option but a nuclear reality. We have had quite enough nuclear prevarication already, and so has the world’s climate. The Government should not allow themselves any longer to be entrapped by a well intentioned recommendation of the Royal Commission, made in 1976, that is no longer appropriate in the very different circumstances of the 21st century.”
The counter-arguments, for example that we are dealing with an issue that will have implications for many millennia, so we should not rush the debate, seemed to be brushed aside by the argument that we have increasing amounts of waste and they have to go somewhere- so a decision had to be taken quickly. But the Minister, Lord Whitty, was unrepentant- CoRWM was doing good work and the governments timetable was the right one, and they would stick to it.
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