News in Depth: Should Singapore reconsider their “no” to Nuclear?

On Friday, July 4, Peter Schwartz, business strategist and member of Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council, said in a panel at the Institute of Policy Studies that Singapore needs to consider turning to nuclear power as a key part of its strategy against climate change.

Mr. Schwartz, who is also a SVP at Salesforce.com and a co-founder of the Global Business Network, framed it in the context of Singapore’s current reliance on natural gas;

You’re going to continue to need electricity, and renewables will be insufficient. You’re either going to have to continue using natural gas or move to nuclear power.

In this week’s News in Depth, we look at the current state of energy sector in Singapore and consider Mr. Schwartz’s call for the country reconsider its current stance against nuclear power.

Singapore’s Current Energy Landscape and Policy on Nuclear

As the Channel News Asia report on Mr. Schwartz’s talk explains, in 2012 the Singapore government concluded that nuclear power was not suitable for the small industrialized country, owing mainly to the safety risks. The “nuclear pre-feasibility study” – a summary is available here – provides some useful context to our analysis.

Singapore, the study notes, lacks indigenous energy resources and generates around 80% of its electricity from imported natural gas from Malaysia and Indonesia. The study also notes that renewable sources such as solar and wind can only augment the energy supply, as the country simply lacks the space for large-scale renewable installations. As a result, the country is challenged with finding a reliable energy source that can provide a stable baseload of capacity while also moving the country towards a low-carbon energy system.

The government initiated the study in response to these challenges, but the study found that “nuclear energy technologies presently available are not suitable for deployment in Singapore.” Despite the findings, the report did state the Singapore should play an active role in the future of nuclear technologies and safety. In other words, the door may be closed for now, but they did not throw away the key.

Reconsidering Nuclear Energy in Singapore

This renewed call to consider nuclear comes at a crucial time in the global energy industry. With the world’s attention this year on climate change in the lead up to the UN Convention in Paris, perhaps it is time to reconsider what may be possible in Singapore.

Mr. Schwartz argues that nuclear energy technology has advanced a great deal, and believes that nuclear power plants could be built on offshore barges, underground, or potentially on partnering island who have more space and may be willing to share in the benefits of a new nuclear power plant. These ideas echo similar stories we have previously explored. In May, we looked at Dunedin Energy Systems’ idea of deploying SMR (Small Modular Reactors) technology onboard ships in Canada’s arctic. The concept there, and here potentially, is to think of nuclear options that are smaller, safer and perhaps even mobile. In addition, in the last five years more advanced reactor technologies have increased safety and relability, take Westinghouse’s AP1000 PWR as an example.

In short, in the three years since Singapore said “no” to nuclear, the landscape has indeed shifted. Of course, policies don’t change overnight, but perhaps it is time for Singapore to once again consider nuclear and the new applications of safety and operational technology that are emerging today.

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.

Summary report for Future of Nuclear seminar – Nuclear Liability Developments in India, May 27

On May 27th attendees of the Future of Nuclear seminar series had the privilege to hear Els Reynaers discuss recent nuclear liability developments in India. Specifically, the discussion focused on the practical implications for Canadian parties interested in establishing commercial exports of civil nuclear energy technology and uranium.

A review of India’s current energy mix, as well as the country’s ambitious projected energy scenarios provided context for the discussion. By 2050, India wishes to meet 25% of its electricity needs through nuclear energy, a significant increase from the roughly 2% the industry currently represents. Thanks to key international developments, specifically a 2008 exception from Nuclear Supply Group (NSG) guidelines that previously restricted the transfer of technology, it seemed India was on-route to meeting their targets with the help of foreign participation.

Nevertheless, for this union to be successful, foreign nuclear vendors, regulators, and suppliers had to navigate India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLND). It is precisely here where the challenges lie. Chief among them were issues regarding the value and time frame of supplier liability, as well as what constitutes a supplier and the right to legal recourse in the event of a nuclear incident.

In response, the recent India-US agreement represents a commitment to address the stipulations of the CLND and so encourage foreign partnerships. The recently launched India Nuclear Insurance Pool (INIP) serves this purpose by providing funds to cover both operator and supplier liability risks and thus generate investor confidence.

Towards the end of the discussion, insightful questions were brought forth that spoke of support as well as the need to delve into the details of both the CLND and INIP. For partnerships to thrive, it is key that the aforementioned challenges be addressed. While we await the finalization of the India-US agreement and INIP policies, the lines of communication between interested parties will be kept open.

Written by Alejandra Tobar, B.Sc. Candidate, University of Toronto

 

News in Depth: Nuclear Energy and Mexico’s Radical Quest to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emmisions

Mexico’s Bold Emissions Goals

On Friday, March 27, 2015, the Government of Mexico announced new targets that aim to cut output of greenhouse gases by 22 percent and its emissions of black carbon and soot by 51 percent by the year 2030. Such a move would make 2026 its peak emissions year.

While Mexico is only responsible for an estimated 1.5% of global emissions, the country felt strongly that is was important to set the goals high and to set them early in the lead up the global climate conference in Paris in December. Roberto Dondisch Glowinski, Mexico’s lead negotiator to the United Nations (U.N.) climate talks, is quoted in Scientific American saying: “we are trying to show that what we say in the negotiations, we stand by our words. Second, we want to show that it is feasible.”

How does Mexico plan to meet these targets? Steven Mufson, writer for the Washington Post, notes that meeting these goals will require higher fuel efficiency standard for cars and an increasing of investment in renewable and nuclear energy for the power sector.

The Future of Nuclear in Mexico

As the World Nuclear Association (WNA) highlights, Mexico currently operates two nuclear reactors that generate approximately 4 percent of its electricity. The country is also a net energy exporter, as it is rich in fossil fuel resources such as oil and natural gas. As the WNA notes, there is political will to further develop nuclear capacity, but the recent drop in oil prices has stymied any significant progress.

Given these new targets, Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) may pursue an earlier strategy which included building six to eight 1400 MWe units and, potentially, more flexible and less cost-intensive Small Modular Reactors (SMR) that could service the agricultural sector. However, putting these plans into action will require new investments in education and training.

In January 2015, ScienceDaily featured the research of Dr. Lorenzo Martínez Gómez, a researcher at the Institute of Physics of the Autonomous Nacional University of Mexico (UNAM). Dr. Gómez’s argues that nuclear energy is key to mitigating climate change and to reducing fossil fuel use in Mexico. The article summarizes Dr. Gómez’s main points, including: 1) that the public in Mexico fears nuclear, despite fossil fuels inflicting more actual damage to the environment and to public safety, and 2) that the key to the success of nuclear in Mexico will be training and education of scientists and technicians.

The federal government manages employment opportunities that will be generated by energy reform efforts (about 135,000 in total) not only in areas of hydrocarbons, but new technologies to develop alternative energy. Given the government’s investment in training, Mr. Gómez argues that now is the time to spark a revival in nuclear engineering in Mexico.

In short, it’s likely that the nuclear sector can play a big role in helping Mexico achieve its new emissions goals by leveraging investments in training and education and by capitalizing on new found political will both at home and abroad. Significant progress is hard to predict in the short term, but we’re optimistic that the global climate change conference in December may provide the necessary spark to push the government of Mexico and its partners into action.