News in Depth: Putting a Face on the Future of Nuclear in the UAE

Over the last few months, our News in Depth series has explored the development of nuclear energy around the world. However, what is admittedly missing in our stories and in many of the stories we link to is that human element: who are the people that are driving the future of nuclear?

In this week’s feature, we focus on the future of UAE’s renewable energy programmes and the story of Marwa Al Shehhi and Omar Al Hashmi, Emirati students who are studying abroad in the hope of bringing their new nuclear expertise back home to the UAE.

The Students’ Stories and the UAE’s Nuclear Future

In a recent article in UAE’s The National, Caline Malek tells the story of two Emirati students, Marwa Al Shehhi and Omar Al Hashmi, who have travelled to Korea to bolster their nuclear engineering and management skills. Ms. Al Shehhi describes her motivation in the piece by saying that

“nuclear energy is interesting all over the world, and hearing that my country was adopting safe nuclear energy really made me proud. So I wanted to take part in that initiative…”

Ms. Al Shehhi is studying in a two-year masters program at Kings Kepco International Nuclear Graduate School. Mr. Al Hashmi is studying nuclear engineering as part of a bachelors program at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Just like Ms. Al Shehhi, he is also keen on being part of the UAE’s energy transformation,

“I want to make my country proud and try to advance nuclear studies in the UAE. We’re trying to reduce our carbon emissions and this is one of the best ways to do it.”

These two students, along with their peers, appear eager to leverage their foreign education to gain professional experience at home and abroad. For example, another student mentioned in the piece plans to intern with Korea Electric Power Corporation before joining the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC).

ENEC was establisehd by the UAE government on recommendation by the IAEA, as the country embarked on the development of nuclear energy production in the last decade. According the World Nuclear Association’s country profile, 98% of of the UAE’s 101 billion kWh energy production was from oil in 2012. In response to this continued reliance on fossil fuels, the country has accepted a $20 billion bid from a South Korean consortium to build four commercial reactors that are expected to produce 5.6 GWe by 2020 at Barakah, a coastal site 300 km west of Abu Dhabi city.

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Image credit: The National

The Educational Story in a Broader Context

With construction at the Barakah site progressing on time and on budget it appears that these students have a bright future ahead of them. However, this story also illustrates the complex interaction between foreign suppliers and the countries involved in nuclear development. It is clear that Korea and Korean companies have a vested interest in building not only reactors abroad, but universities at home that train Korean and foreign students alike. At the same time, countries that have little existing commercial, engineering, or educational infrastructure must look abroad to train students in new technologies such as nuclear.

As a result, the flow of knowledge follows the flow of capital around the world. In the nuclear energy sector in particular, it is important that local people, who will help maintain and operate the facilities long after the initial construction managed by foreign suppliers, have the know-how and skills to safely operate the site.

It starts, then, with education and training, with people like Ms. Al Shehhi and Mr. Al Hashmi. They are the future of nuclear for the UAE.

News in Depth: Dave Toke’s Cost Comparison of Nuclear and Wind

On May 15, Dave Toke, a Reader in Energy Politics at the University of Aberdeen, shared his analysis of the cost between nuclear power and both onshore and offshore wind power. Toke concluded that nuclear is, on the whole, more expsensive than both wind sources.

In this week’s News in Depth, we take a look at Toke’s analysis and discuss whether his conclusions and assumptions can apply in different context.

Comparing Nuclear with Wind Cost: Understanding the Numbers

Toke compares energy costs by using two main sources. First, he cites the UK Government’s 2013 contract with the operators of the Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset, England. The Government agreed to pay the price of £92.50 per/MWh over 35 years with a £10 billion loan guaranteed by the Treasury. Adjusted for inflation, the price is now closer to £94 per/MWh.

Toke then contrasts that example with the Government’s February announcement of new onshore and offshore windfarm contracts at £80 per/MWh and £120 per/MHh respectively over a shorter 15 year term (with no loan guarantee by Treasury). He notes that that these installations are yet to be built and thus he has to assume that these prices will remain stable for years.

So how does Toke arrive at his headline cost comparison figures of £83 per/MWh for nuclear, £78 per/MWh for offshore wind, and £73 per/MWh for onshore wind? For the full breakdown, please take a moment to read Toke’s full post. However, for context, know that Toke is taking a longer term view, building in the cost of refurbishment of both nuclear facilities and wind turbines.

He assumes a lifespan of 45 years for nuclear – lower than what he calls the wrongfully “accepted average” – and a lifespan of 45 years for wind (with a refurbishment after 25 years). He argues that the refurbishment of the wind turbines is much less expensive than the initial construction costs, as the foundations and electrical infrastructure can remain in place. As a result, both offshore and onshore wind are, in his analysis, much cheaper than nuclear. Toke concludes:

Hence we can see that both onshore wind and offshore wind are cheaper over 45 years even before we take the considerable advantage given to nuclear power by the loan guarantee on offer and also that the prospect of cost reductions is much stronger in the case of wind power than nuclear power.

Cost Comparison

Image Source: Dave Toke’s Green Energy Blog

The Take-Away’s and Potential Criticisms of Toke’s Analysis

So what are the potential takeaways and criticisms of Toke’s comparison? It must be said that his comparison is of course site specific, but there is little use in criticizing or dismissing his numbers simply because of their limited scope. Rather, we have to think about both the wider repercussions of his conclusions and about what his analysis elides: what assumptions are at play and what figures are not addressed?

It’s clear that one missing element is any discussion of the nature of the power sources themselves. Namely, nuclear, on the whole, provides a steady source of energy production during operation. Wind and solar are susceptible to the elements. I am not claiming that Toke is ignoring such a basic idea, he is looking at the averages here and at the government contract values, but it is nevertheless useful to bear in mind the fundamental difference in how the energy is produced if we are too think about cost in a broader sense.

Toke also makes assumptions about the refurbishment costs and construction methods employed in the offshore wind installations. Notably, he hedges when discussing the scope of refurbishment,

if they are refurbished (say after 20 years) the costs may NOT include the foundations, towers and electrical connections since they will already exist.

While assumptions like these may be informed and necessary for the short analysis of a blog post, they potentially undermine the profundity of the final conclusion regarding the cost benefits of solar vs. nuclear. The costs may indeed be lower, but such conclusions will take time to be tested in the years to come.

News Brief: Nuclear Power Developments in Argentina

Dan Yurman’s recent article for the Energy Collective sheds new light on Argentina’s recent nuclear power developments. Yurman higlights deals for three new nuclear reactors and the the country’s new R&D program focused on the development of a 25 MWe SMR based on a PWR design.

Key facts of the three new reactors include:

  • China’s CNNC is financing two of the new reactors for a total of deal worth $13 billion USD.
  • Russia’s Rosatom is partnering for the third reactor, financing $6 billion USD.
  • Despite these financing deals, Argentina will need to seek further financing, likely from international markets
  • The Chinese reactors are a 800 MW PHWR Candu type reactor scheduled for 2016, and later a new CNNC 1100 MW Hualong One reactor. Rosatom’s reactor is a 1200 MW VVER design.

Yurman also highlights the developmend of a 25 MWe SMR by CNEA (the National Atomic Energy Commission) that is positioned “to be used to supply energy for areas with small populations or, potentially, for supplying power to desalination plants in costal areas.

Nuclear Energy in Argentina

According to World Nuclear Association’s country profile, Argentina currently has three nuclear reactors generating about one-tenth of its electricity. In 2007, per capita energy consumption was over 2600 kWh/yr. In 2012, gross electicity production included 73 TWh from gas, 30 TWh from hydroelectric, 20 TWh from oil, 3 TWh from coal, and 6.4 TWh from nuclear.

Argentina’s electicity production is largely privatised, and is regulated from ENRE (Ente Nacional Regulador de la Electricidad). Yurman, in his article on Argentina’s future nuclear energy plans, describes the three existing reactors:

the profile of installed units includes three PWHR Candu type reactors the oldest of which was built in 1974 (Atucha 1). Atucha 2, a 700 MW PHWR entered revenue service in 2014, and a third unit Embalse, a 600 MW Candu 6, was completed in 1983.

The deals with China and Russia enable a rapid shift in Argentina’s energy mix, with an increasing focus on cutting carbon emmissions. However, questions remain as to whether Argentina can afford major new nuclear infrastructure. As an April 2015 op-ed by Jason Marczak in the World Politics Review noted, Argentina is often an afterthought for investors looking to invest internationally, due to political instabilitity and the fallout from the sovereign debt default in the early 2000s.

However, with presidential elections later this year, there is renewed optimism in Argentina and, perhaps, a chance that international investors will begin to reconsider their skepticism. Renewed investment will make help to catapult the recent Chinese and Russian deals, and the local SMR development, from the early stages of today towards a brighter future.

Special Report: Nuclear Law and Liability Developments in India (Part 2 of 3)

Introduction

Last week, in Part 1 of this Special Report, we explored the history of India’s nuclear law liability regime and the passing of the 2010 Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act. We ended by highlighting how the 2010 Liability Act effectively drove a wedge between international suppliers and India’s nuclear industry by exposing suppliers to increased liability in the event of accidents.

Today, in Part 2, we will discuss and analyze the recent India-US agreement on nuclear trade and liability. In addition, we will canvas news reports and opinion pieces to get a sense of the reaction’s of industry experts and observers.

Part 2: The India-US Agreement

In January of this year, U.S. President Barack Obama visited India to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One of the key goals of the president’s trip was to formalize an agreement on nuclear development and liability issues.

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(Image Source: Reuters via the BBC)

As a report by Dan Roberts in The Guardian notes, the threat of tough Indian compensation laws – specifically the 2010 Liability Act – had “frustrated US hopes of an export boom in the energy sector.” As of May 2015, the details of the deal are still being finalized. However, certain baseline elements are set. As this Reuters report lays out, the deal sets a framework for the US nuclear industry to enter commercial talks with India’s nuclear operators by resolving two concerns, inspections and liability.

On the issue of liability specifically, the agreement upholds the strict liability regime and the supplier liability provisions of the 2010 Liability Act. However, to address supplier concerns, India will establish an insurance pool to cover liability up to a hard cap. The insurance pool, which would be backed by the state of India, would cover operator liability of up to 15 billion rupees (around $250 million US). Any recourse sought by the operator against a supplier could not be exceed this figure. In addition, insurance premiums for suppliers would be a fraction of the amount paid by the operator of the plants.

The Reuters report also highlights that in the event of a large scale incident, the Indian government would cover additional costs up to $420 Million (US) and, for additional funds, the report says that India would need to join the IAEA Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).

Following the India-US agreement, India has made it clear that the 2010 Liability Act will not be amended. A report from the India Express highlights the government’s position that

the foreign suppliers of the reactors cannot be sued for the damages by victims of a nuclear accident but can be held liable by the operator who has the right of recourse that could be operationalised through the contract between the operator and the supplier.

As a result, the agreement should not be viewed as a reform of India’s liability laws, but as an agreement to work within those laws by establishing an insurance pool for the operators and suppliers. In retrospect, it is clear that it was very important that India maintain its liability regime, as public and political opinion favoured increased liability for foreign suppliers following the Bhopal disaster in 1984. The agreement thus establishes a mechanism that keeps this regime in place while allowing for increased international nuclear trade.

Reactions to the Agreement and Concluding Thoughts

Reactions to the agreement have been mixed in the ensuing days and months. Partly, this is due to the fact that many of the details of the insurance pool have yet to be finalized. In an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW), Mycle Schneider, an independent international consultant on energy and nuclear policy, shared concerns about the deal;

apparently, no specific document was signed. The Indian government reportedly announced its plan to set up a 122 million USD insurance fund to cover operators and suppliers from liabilities in case of an accident. Senior US nuclear industry officials stated they need to understand the “fine print” of the insurance. Equipment suppliers are keeping the champagne on ice, as one Indian business journal commented.

Mr. Scheinder, when asked if he expects the Indian market to become more appealing for US companies, says that “there is no real market for foreign companies in India, unless they bring their own funding. Under free market condition, it is not possible anymore to build a nuclear power plant anywhere in the world.”

A recent article on Monday by Ran Chakrabarti, an Indian lawyer, echoes similar skepticism.

It remains to be seen whether the Act and the Rules set out a balanced framework, encouraging suppliers to dip their toes into the Indian nuclear energy market, yet protecting the legitimate interests and concerns of the public in the event of a nuclear accident.

Given the complexity of nuclear development and the liability regime in India, it’s clear that this agreement will not be a panacea for all of the industry’s problems. As we’ve seen in these criticisms, and throughout India’s history, the role of foreign companies and governments in trade and development has been at times troublesome and, at other times, even disastrous.

However, India is growing at incredible rates and, as we explored in Part 1, lacks access to domestic energy resources such as coal and oil (which have driven China’s much faster economic growth). As a result, nuclear energy can help provide for a better base capacity for the country as it continues to also develop renewables such as wind and solar. In Part 3, to be published in the coming weeks, we will explore the future of nuclear in India and also focus on the ongoing finalization of the US-India agreement.

Special Report: Nuclear Law and Liability Developments in India (Part 1 of 3)

INTRODUCTION 

On May 27, 2015, Mindfirst will be hosting a Future of Nuclear Seminar on Nuclear Liability Developments in India. The speaker at the event will be Els Reynaers, a Partner at the law firm of M.V. Kini & Co. and President of the International Nuclear Law Association.

In her talk on the recent Indo-US political breakthrough on nuclear liability, Ms. Reynaers will explore the legal and insurance-related developments in India’s nuclear sector, and what those changes mean for Canadian nuclear vendors, regulators, and suppliers.

In the run up to this event, we bring you a three-part special report on India’s nuclear law regime. In Part 1, we explore the history of India’s nuclear law and liability regime. Next week, in Part 2, we discuss the recent negotiations and tentative agreement reached between the US and India in early 2015. In Part 3, to be published the week of Ms. Reynaers’ talk, we will explore the opportunities and challenges ahead for India’s nuclear energy sector.

We hope that this report will give you a clearer understanding not only of the recent Indo-US agreement, but the unique evolution of the nuclear law regime in India. We hope you can join us on May 27 to discuss these issues in person.

Part I: The History of India’s Nuclear Law and Liability Regime

As Gruendel and Reynaers pointed out in their 2012 article, India is not well endowed with natural energy resources. In response to this lack of reliable and local reserves, India plans to have 20,000 MW of nuclear capacity by 2020, with plans to derive 25% of its electricity (approximately 3000 GW) from nulcear by 2050.

Up until the passage of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 (2010 Liability Act), to be discussed below, nuclear activity in India was governed by the Atomic Energy Act of 1948 and the Atomic Energy Act of 1962. Together, these Acts made the Central Government of India the sole legal operator of nuclear facilities in the country. The legislation did, however, leave room for private sector companies to hold a minority share in the ownership and operation of nuclear facilities under joint ventures.

Another key detail – highlighted by Yash Mannully in an important 2012 article on issues in Indian nulcear liability law – is that the Acts gave power to the Government to make rules that deliniate

the [operator’s] liability in respect of any hurt to any person or any damage to property caused by ionising radiations or any radioactive contamination either at the plant under license or in the surrounding area.

However, despite provisions that enable the Government to regulate liability, little was done in terms of legislating until the last decade. Additionally, up until the last decade, India’s 20 nulcear power plants operated at reduced capacity, given that India was excluded from international nuclear trade under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, with a 2008 agreement by the Nuclear Supplier Group to grant a waiver to India, the country was able to import nuclear technology and sign bilateral agreements on civilian nuclear energy technology with countries such as Canada, France, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.1

As of 2008 then, India’s nuclear energy sector was primed to grow at an incredible rate. The country, then home to over 1.1 billion people, was given a new opportunity to fulfill it’s nulcear energy ambitions, in new partnerships with suppliers from around the world. As Gruendel and Reynaers note2, these partnerships were not for “turn-key”, full construction services, but rather for specific contracts for reactor technologies and related components. Given that these contracts are between the suppliers and India’s state nuclear operator (the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)) the challenge of establishing a clear liability regime for the industry, and the scope of the liability itself, remained.

The 2010 Liability Act was the first concerted effort by the government to outline the scope of liability for the nuclear sector in India. In essence, the Act, in conjunction with subsequent ammendments, expanded the scope of liability beyond the operator – in this case, the NPCIL – to the suppliers of technology used in the civilian nuclear energy sector. By affirming strict and no-fault liability on the operator, the Liability Act was in keeping with the 1960 Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage.3

However, where the 2010 Liability Act differed significantly was in its granting of special rights of legal recourse to the operators in the event of an incident. Under s 17(b), the operator of the nuclear installation “shall have the right of recourse where:

the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services.”

As Gruendel and Reynaers note in their 2012 article, linked above, the original language of 17(b) targeted situations where “the nuclear incident has resulted from the willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier,” but such language was dropped when experts agreed that establishing mens rea (or “guilty mind”) would be too difficult and would potentially weaken the government’s power, through their role as operator, to rely on legal recourse for damages against suppliers.

There are additional issues in the 2010 Liability Act that are important – including limitation periods and the complex interaction between international and domestic law – but they are beyond the scope of this brief review.

SUMMARY

The key point is that up until the early 2015 Indo-US agreement – which established an insurance pool and clearer liabilility limits for both operators and suppliers in India – suppliers were subject to special legal liability in the event of a nuclear incident. The establishment of this statutory tort – which coexists with common law tort liability – thus drove a wedge between suppliers and India’s nuclear industry. The 2008 agreement to allow bilateral trade was thus at a standstill – the country was open for business, but there was a massive catch. In addition, while the law was extensive, it did not necessarily clarify many of the issues it was designed to solve.

As a result, reform was crucial to any opening of trade between foreign suppliers and India’s NPCIL. Next week, in Part 2 of this series, we explore the efforts to reform and clarify the 2010 Liability Act and the recent Indo-US agreement on nuclear liability and technological development.


 

  1. See Gruendel and Reynaers 2012, page 46.  
  2. See their 2012 article, linked above, page 48. 
  3. See Gruendel and Reynaers, page 49, footnote 26. 

News in Depth: Deploying SMR Technology in Canada’s Northern Communities

In mid-April, 2015, Peter Lang, President of Dunedin Energy Systems Ltd, gave a presentation at the Nunavut Mining Symposium, arguing for a radical shift in the way we provide energy to remote communities and mining operations. Traditionally, northern communities have relied upon diesel generators that produce substantial pollution and require costly infrastructure for fuel transport to maintain energy production.

Lang suggests a new approach, one that utilizes new, small modular reactor (SMR) technology to produce energy from floating nuclear power ships. In this week’s News in Depth, we explore Lang’s idea and the potential opportunities and challenges that are ahead.

An Old Idea Given New Life

As Lang noted in his presentation, the idea of utilizing nuclear reactors in unique contexts is not new: small, self-contained nuclear reactors have been providing energy on military ships and submarines (103 in the US Navy alone), and ice-breakers for decades and have been deployed in northern Russian communities since the 1970s.

Lang’s Dunedin Energy believes that their SMART (Small Modular Adaptable Reactor Technology) system would provide a more sustainable and consistent energy source for remote communities in Canada. They describe the systems as a “nuclear battery”:

When the fuel in a nuclear battery is consumed, the entire reactor module (which contains the spent fuel) is removed and shipped to a processing facility for fuel recycling. A new, freshly fuelled reactor module is installed to replace it. The reactor module is a sealed unit and cannot be opened for any reason at the operating site.

In his presentation, Lang compares diesel and nuclear, using a 16MWe common production rate. Notably, the annual fuel logistics of diesel include moving and storing over 31 million litres of fuel and annual greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be 85,000 tonnes. Compare those figures to the zero fuel logistics and greenhouse gas emissions of their nuclear SMART system. Lang also highlights the issue of carbon taxes, arguing that while diesel may cost up to $1.2 Million for a 16MWe plant, a nuclear SMART reactor would gain a credit of $1.2 Million.

The Challenges Ahead

The incredibly favourable comparison above belies some of the deeper challenges that SMR development may face in northern communities.

The first set of challenges relate to cost and public resistance. Dunedin presents two business cases – a full-ownership option and a “zero-capital cost” option wherein Dunedin handles the operation and logistics of deployment, operation, and decommissioning, and the customer pays approximately 29 cents/kW in return.

However, northern communities and mine operators may be tempted to continue to rely on diesel – owing to the current low price of oil and, in essence, because of the stickiness of the status quo. In addition, northern communities, including many Aboriginal groups, continue to be locked in debates over energy development, mining, and socio-economic development; introducing any new nuclear energy plan may provide more fodder for political debate. Dunedin appears to be aware of these challenges and addresses the regulatory and safety issues on their website. However, as we suggested in a piece on April 23, better public engagement and education would be required to quell any genuine fears or uncertainty that exist.

Lastly, northern communities may demand a clearer set of guidelines and regulations relating to decommissioning and remediation. Lang noted in his presentation that decommissioning funds would be held in escrow, effectively guaranteeing that even if a community or mine is bankrupt, that the money for cleanup and restoration is not subject to claims by creditors or other parties. Dunedin’s approach is unique – in that the whole reactor-in-a-ship concept allows for relatively easy site cleanup – but questions still remain. How much would be necessary for cleanup? What does full restoration look like?

In other words, this ambitious idea is not without issues. However, there appear to be tremendous economic and environmental arguments in favour of SMR development in northern and remote communities. These arguments carry over to other contexts – including Mexico, for example – and may one day translate to a new energy future for Canada’s North.

News in Depth: Germany’s Nuclear Phase Out

This week, German electric utitlity company RWE’s Chief Executive, Peter Terium, criticised the German government’s plans for imposing a levy on older fossil-fuelled power plants. Terium, in a shareholder meeting, argued that such a move to tax lignite based plants would lead to job losses and soaring electicity prices at a time when Germany is both trying to maintain economic growth and phase out its nuclear energy capacity by 2022.

This latest news follows a larger pattern of increasing German reliance on fossil-fuels as the country seeks to move away from nuclear – which once provided 25 percent of the country’s electricity – while also maintaining a energy-cost structure that allows Germany’s industrial base to remain competitive.

In this week’s News in Depth, we explore the story of Germany’s National Energy Transition Plan (Energiewende) and ask what lessons can be learned from a relatively rapid and unprecedented shift away from nuclear energy.

The Story So Far

As the World Nuclear Association’s fact-sheet points out, Germany first announced a plan to phase out nuclear energy in the wake of the 1998 federal elections. The plan was abandoned in 2009 following the election of a new government.

However, on May 30, 2011, Angela Merkel’s government announced a new plan to phase out nuclear energy by 2022, in response to widespread public protests following the Fukushima-Daichi crisis in Japan. The plan, estimated to cost almost 1 trillion euros, was announced by then Environmental Minister Norbert Rottgen. The initial plan was that:

the seven oldest reactors – which were taken offline for a safety review immediately after the Japanese crisis – would never be used again. An eighth plant – the Kruemmel facility in northern Germany… would also be shut down for good. Six others would go offline by 2021 at the latest and the three newest plants by 2022.

At the time of the announcement, the plan was citicized by other political parties and industry leaders. Renate Künast, the co-floor leader of the Green Party, expressed doubt as to the government’s level of prepardness to make the switch to renewables – leading to concerns that such a move would be a step back in terms of cutting carbon emmissions. In addition, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche suggested that the plan presented a “number of risks” to Germany’s manufacturing sectore.

Fast forward to 2014, when Robert Wilson, writing for the Energy Collective, points out that Germany’s nuclear phase is out leading to more coal burning. As he argues, the energy transition is not necessarily a positive one in terms of cutting carbon emissions; between “2011 and 2015 Germany will open 10.7 GW of new coal fired power stations.” These new plants, as he points out, are not directly tied to the 2011 announcement, but they are a result of Germany’s first foray into nuclear phase out in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The Story Today, and Tomorrow

Wilson’s point, then, is that Germany’s growing reliance on coal is real, but it is not simply a result of the 2011 phase out plan. For some time, Germany has been moving away from nuclear. Thus, the move is not purely ideological or politically driven. However, it is also not, in light of the tariff and emmissions issues, a totally practical decision. The question remains, can Germany succesfully pull off a relatively rapid phase out while maintaining a strong and cost-effective energy system to support its manufacturing sector? Can it also do so while cutting carbon emmissions?

Raimund Bleishwitz, a professor at Univeristy College London, is cited in Scientific American as framing the issue in two ways: 1) external competition, and 2) internal burden sharing. Bleishwitz’s taxonomy, which highlights the tensions inherent in a large scale energy transition, is a useful tool for thinking about energy development more broadly.

While nuclear energy’s future in Germany is uncertain today, it’s clear that many other countries, especially developing nations, are looking to nuclear energy to develop a more robust, consistent, and flexible energy supply for their growing economies. Germany provides a counter-example to these efforts, remininding us that energy needs, market dynamics, and political climates change over time. We must remain open to these changes, and be ready to anticipate what may come next.

News in Depth: The Debate over Florida Power and Light’s Turkey Point Expansion Plan

Starting April 22, residents of Florida’s Miami-Dade county have had the opportunity to attend public consultation meetings hosted by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to discuss the Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) plan to add two new nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point plant.

For this week’s News in Depth feature article, we explore various components of the debate around FPL’s Turkey Point plans and reflect on what lessons industry officials and regulators can learn from the consultation process.

The Turkey Point Story

According to FPL, Turkey Point Nuclear Plant is located 24 miles south of Miami, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Currently, there are two nuclear power units which have been in operation since the early 1970s. Westinghouse supplied the Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) and the turbine generators.

FPL now seeks to obtain a combined license (COL) for two Westinghouse Advanced Passive 1000 PWRs, to be called Turkey Point Units 6 and 7. The original application was tendered in June 2009, and FPL hopes to have the new reactors online by 2022.

FPL operates two nuclear plants in Florida, St. Lucie and Turkey Point. Progress Energy Florida operates a 5 unit plant in Crystal River, on Florida’s west coast, and has proposed another plant in Levy County. Nuclear plants in Florida have been met with skepticism by many, as the general public seeks to understand the safety risks in the event of hurricanes or flooding.

In the Turkey Point debate, critics have asked if the plant is prepared to resist the rising sea levels which have reeked havoc in Miami’s barrier islands. In response, FPL has highlighted that the current plant is 20 feet (6 m) above sea level, enough to withstand severe flooding associated with up to Category 5 hurricanes. In addition, the new reactors would be built at an even higher 26 feet, to take into account rising sea levels.

However, what is perhaps more interesting is not just how FPL is responding to criticism, but how it is using the story of its history and current practices to work with and educate the public.

Public Communication and Consultation: What can we learn?

FPL has used many of the standard, and expected, methods to communicate their rationale behind building these new reactors. On its website and in the press, they have emphasized the economic advantage of their operations, zero-carbon emissions, and the extensive research and safety preparation that goes into the plant.

They have also relied on community specific examples, including most notably their efforts to improve the habitat for the once-endangered American crocodile and their support for wetland recovery programs.

The public consulation process – like the one happening right now at Turkey Point – provides a unique opportunity for the nuclear industry to have an honest, down-to-earth conversation with the public about energy, safety, and the environment. In addition, a more human conversation also allows regulators to get a better sense of the public’s views and concerns. In the future, the focus should not only be on the technical details, but on the realistic compromises we must make to meet our energy needs. That includes talking about everything from transmission lines to crocodiles, depending, of course, on the context.

News in Depth: Nuclear Energy Development in Vietnam

We turn this week to Vietnam, and two recent news articles that speak to the growing relationship between Russia and the Southeast Asian country. They focus specifically on Gazprom’s recent purchase of a 49% stake in Vietnams’ Dung Quat refinery, the countries sole oil processing facility, and the Vietnam-Russia Joint Venture Bank’s (VRB) request for approval to financing government projects in energy and defense.

While on their face these stories are not nuclear stories, in context they mark another step forward for Vietnam’s nuclear energy development.

Vietnam’s Nuclear Energy Story

The World Nuclear Association and Nuclear Energy Institute provide useful summaries of Vietnam’s nuclear energy history. Discussions of establishing nuclear generating capacity began in the early 1980’s, with firm proposals not surfacing until 2006. In 2008, the government passed the Law on Atomic Energy which laid the regulatory framework for future development. The goals of the Act, under Article 6, are that “atomic energy activities are conducted for peaceful purposes” that “serve socio-economic development.”

Vietnam has a population over over 88 million people with a total energy consumption of 110 billion kWh. In 2009, 33% of the country’s capacity was hydro, 17% gas, 12% coal, and 6% oil. The other 33% was contracted under “independent power producers.” Given these numbers, let’s now turn to the plans that unfolded following the establishment of the regulatory framework in 2008.

As the WNA country profile states:

Since October 2008, two reactors (total 2000 MWe) have been planned at Phuoc Dinh in the southern Ninh Thuan province. A further 2000 MWe was planned at Vinh Hai nearby, followed by a further 6000 MWe by 2030… A high demand scenario would give 8000 MWe in 2025 and 15,000 MWe (10% of total) in 2030 at up to eight sites in five provinces. Four more units would be added to the first two sites, then six more at three or four central sites…

The first and second reactors in Ninh Thuan are being developed in partnership with Russia and Japan respectively. However, the US is also involved in Vietnam’s nuclear future. Another Reuters report from October 2010 highlights the agreement signed between the two countries that would allow the transfer of nuclear technology to Vietnam, paving the way for US suppliers to begin business in the country.

In the last four years, negotiations over technical and financial details have continued to stymie significant progress.

In January of this year, the government of Vietnam announced that the start of construction will be pushed back once again, now till 2019.

The Story Today

Vietnam’s nuclear journey has not been an easy one, and arguably it shouldn’t be, as complexities of nuclear energy development require careful consideration. However, it is clear that these delays have begun to negatively impact the country’s development. As the World Nuclear Association points out, rationing is common place in the country, and it only follows that future growth will suffer so long as the base energy supply of the country remains chronically strained.

This brings us back to the lead articles. It’s clear that Russia’s recent moves in energy investment and banking development are an effort to secure business for Russia and to wield influence internationally with the growing ASEAN member state. Politics aside, it’s important to highlight these moves as they speak to the main point of this story: that Vietnam is struggling and it will be up to international players to help Vietnam begin its nuclear age.

News in Depth: Global Nuclear Growth in Context

This week, in an article for The Energy Collective, Jesse Jenkins, a writer and current PhD student in Engineering Systems at MIT, aimed at putting the growth of renewable energy in perspective. The article provides more than just an overview of renewable energy however, it also provides some interesting context for discussion of the future of nuclear power.

A year in review: thinking about energy capacity worldwide

Before thinking about what comes next in our energy future, it’s important to have some context. In his article, Jenkins provides a succinct summary of the progress made in the last full calendar year:

The world added 103 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity in 2014… That figure excludes large hydropower projects… and is dominated by wind and solar, which saw growth of 49 GW and 46 GM respectively. More importantly, the share of renewable electricity… in the global electricity mix ticked upwards from 8.5 percent in 2013 to 9.1 percent in 2014.

As is noted, that figure is close to the 10.5 percent of global electricity supplied by nuclear power.

Global_Electricity_Market_Shares_1980-2014

(Image Source: The Energy Collective)

A link to the International Energy Agency’s (IAE) World Energy Outlook 2014 Factsheet is also provided. The factsheet highlights some additional key points:

  • 434 operating commercial reactors worldwide at the end of 2013 (capacity: 392 GW)
  • Nuclear power has avoided the release of an estimated 56 Gt of CO2 emissions since 1971
  • Almost 200 of the 434 reactors operating at the of 2013 are to be retired before 2040

Finally, Jenkins articulates two visions for future growth in renewables. In the first scenario, growth is linear at about 100GW per year. In the second, growth compounds at a 10 percent per year rate. As he notes, neither scenario is perfect, but they “bracket the realm of most likely outcomes.”

What’s next for nuclear power and renewables?

The IAE’s factsheet provides an apt summary of the challenge ahead for the nuclear energy sector, “the industry will need to manage an unprecedented rate of decommissioning, while also building substantial new capacity for those reactors that are replaced.” It is clear that the next few decades will be filled with difficult problems: how do we handle the decommissioning of so many reactors, how do we balance short and long term cost economic and political concerns, and how do we safely and steadily grow nuclear capacity, especially in the so-called BRIC countries?

From a review of conference topics and recent news articles, it’s clear that the industry is well aware of these challenges and is making positive strides. As we’ve highlighted here at Future of Nuclear, companies are continuing to develop new, smaller reactors that can be deployed in both industrialized and developing markets. In addition, governments continue to explore how to safely deal with radioactive waste. In all, the challenges are great but not insurmountable.

This, finally, brings us back to the topic of renewables. As highlighted earlier, there is no single panacea for our energy needs or a clear idea of what the future will bring. Powering a diverse world takes a diverse set of solutions. As Mr. Jenkins points out in his article, the best way to ensure that low-carbon sources continue to grow is to not put all of our eggs in one basket. What is needed is a toolkit of locally relevant and sustainable technologies that can respond to the growing need for reliable, safe, and clean energy worldwide. That is the industries’ north star. The trick, as it were, is to keeps steering towards it.