Renew On Line (UK) 70
|Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 170 Nov-Dec 2007
|Welcome Archives Bulletin|
10. Nuclear problems
Although the UK Energy White Paper (EWP) claims that nuclear plants could be economic (see below), Greenpeace International has produced a report on the economics of the global nuclear industry, the conclusions of which seems pretty clear- it can t go ahead without subsidies. See:www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/ international/press/reports/the-economics-of-nuclear-power.pdf
The health impacts issue continues to be contentious. A July 2006 BBC Horizon programme on the effects of radiation which seemed to put the official view unchallenged had attracted complaints which have now been upheld by the BBC s Editorial Standards Committee, on the grounds of lack of impartiality.
The security issues are also beginning to have an impact. A proposal from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission would require each applicant for a new reactor design to assess how the design, to the extent practicable, can have greater built-in protections to avoid or mitigate the effects of a large commercial aircraft impact. Issues like this may have influenced Californian regulators, who have resisted an attempt to remove the moratorium, introduced in 1976, on building new nuclear plants in the state. In April, faced with a proposed Bill seeking to rescind it, the Assembly s Natural Resources Committee upheld the ban, Meanwhile, progress on the so-called next generation of nuclear technology is looking a bit fraught. The WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor (No.655) recently carried a report by Steve Thomas on South Africa s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor programme, which it said is not doing too well. Construction of a prototype demonstration project was originally set to start in late 2008 or early 2009, but so far no commercial agreement to fund the demonstration has been concluded and the final design has yet to be submitted for approval- a process which could take two more years. Thomas suggests that even if no problems emerge with the prototype, commercial orders could not be placed before mid 2017, with first power from the first commercial plant in 2021 .
So for now the industry is stuck with various modified versions of the standard PWR, including the EPR, one of which France is planing to build. That plan may now be more secure, given that, in the national election in May, the vote went against Royal, who had a clear anti-nuclear policy. But, according to the latest Gallup poll for the EC, only 28% of the French think the share of nuclear should be increased, less than the EU average, while 59% are against. This issue may be amongst those causing problems for France s new right wing government.
Back in the UK, the government has chosen top finance expert, KPMG director Dr Tim Stone, as a senior advisor- a role some have termed the nuclear tsar . He ll help ensure the private sector meet the full cost of waste management/decommissioning for any new plants. The industry says that the waste issues can be sorted and calming words come from supporters like James Lovelock, who in his 2006 book The Revenge of Gaia , says that an outstanding advantage of nuclear over fossil-fuel energy is how easy it is to deal with the waste it produces .. But in June the Lords Science and Technology Committee made clear that, the nuclear waste issue was far from sorted. It had serious concerns about the government s handling of the issue, which it said was incoherent and opaque , with years of procrastination followed by what now appears to be unseemly haste . This, was not the way to inspire public confidence . Adding yet more uncertainty, the DTI had warned that, in the worst case the troubled £1.6bn THORP reprocessing plant, due anyway to close by 2010 or so, might never re-open. Then we d have 800 tons of foreign waste to deal with.
*Scotland has said it won t back the geological waste storage review: see Groups. For more views on nuclear see our Groups section and also: http://www.nuclearspin.org/index.php/Nuclear_is_not_the_Answer_to_Climate_Change/ and http://www.after-oil.co.uk/nuclear.htm/ For a case for, see the first edition of the Institution of Civil Engineers new journal Energy, which has an article on it: www.energy-ice.com
The new Energy White Paper (EWP) claims that nuclear will cost £38/MWh (central estimate), and wind at least £62/MWh. It assumes that nuclear capital costs will be repaid over 40 years and that the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) is 10%. The same WACC is used for wind. This is arguably optimistic for nuclear, pessimistic for wind. A recent Carbon Trust report suggested 7.75% was a realistic WACC for wind. Greenpeace suggests 15% for nuclear. The generally quite objective new book, Nuclear Power by Janet Wood, produced by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, reports that, assuming a 40 year payback time, and an 80%/20% debt/equity ratio, with the cost of capital and unit selling price at 7% and 3p respectively, new nuclear-build is a real possibility. But if the figures were 9% and 2p, the numbers simply would not stack up. The same would seem to be true for White Paper s 3.8p/kWh and 10% cost of capital. Of course that would also be true for wind- if it s price/WACC estimates are used. What this suggests, even if the exact figures may vary in reality, is that new low carbon energy technologies of whatever sort will need subsidies, and an obvious answer is to use traded carbon credits to provide it. But, the EWP seems to skew the playing field yet again, by assuming that nuclear should be credited as offsetting base load coal plants while wind etc. only offset (less carbon intensive) gas plants- so that the renewables carbon credit is lower.
UK gives up on reprocessing
The Government has concluded that any nuclear power stations that might be built in the UK should proceed on the basis that spent fuel will not be reprocessed. So says the Energy White Paper in a clear statement of the intention to abandon the decades-old policy of reprocessing spent fuel- the phase of the nuclear fuel cycle that leads to most public and worker exposure to radioactive materials- whether from normal operations or via leaks. With THORP still shut, perhaps this policy is inevitable. The only problem is that the UK will then presumably not be able to join with the US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, in which the US plans to supply and then reprocess fuel for nuclear plants in developing countries, so that no plutonium falls in to the wrong hands.
Nuclear worse that fossil fuel
In report released by the German environment ministry, the Öko-Institut says that full life cycle CO2 emissions /kWh of total heat and power supplied to consumers are less from gasfired CHP than from nuclear electricity plus oil/gas heating-747g/kWh v 772g/kWh. But what if the waste heat from nuclear plants was used for district heating?
Finns Resist Six Greenpeace activists chained themselves to a 100 metre crane at the construction site of a new Finnish nuclear reactor at Olkiluoto
Playing with fire: Nuclear CHP?
So far, in the UK, nuclear plants have not been built in or near cities, but two thirds of the energy they produce is wasted as rejected heat- so, some opponents wryly insist, if they are as safe as is claimed, put them in cities and use the heat. Redesigning the plants for CHP/co-gen heat production would slightly reduce their efficiency in terms of electricity, but then it seems unlikely that nuclear plants will be very competitive in the electricity market- so why not go for heat? Actually it may not be so far-fetched: they don t have to be in cities- heat can be transferred by pipe up to 50 miles without major losses.
Down and Out ?
7 of the UK s 16 nuclear plants are currently inactive Daily Telegraph, Oct. But, the NDA says that longer term the UK has enough stored uranium/plutonium to fuel up to 3 1GW PWR s or a major FBR programme
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