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: 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.

Ala Alizadeh of Candu Energy to speak at Future of Nuclear 2013

The Future of Nuclear staff is pleased to announce that Ala Alizadeh, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Business Development at Candu Energy Inc., will appear as a speaker and panelist at Future of Nuclear 2013, to be held October 9 at MaRS Discovery District.  To read the complete conference-day agenda, click here.

Dr. Ala Alizadeh leads domestic and international business development activities for 66 Coleridge Ave,  Toronto, ON M4C 4H5 416-466-4474 michael@coopershoots.comCandu Energy Inc.

Before joining Candu Energy Inc., Dr. Alizadeh held similar responsibilities for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), where he built his career for close to 30 years. A civil engineering and construction specialist, he has worked on CANDU nuclear plant projects in Canada, Korea, Argentina and Romania.

He holds a PhD in structural engineering from the University of Toronto where he has also taught. He has served on technical committees in Canada as well as internationally.  Ala has acted as an expert advisor and consultant to the International Atomic Energy Agency on subjects such as nuclear construction, nuclear project development and the establishment of nuclear infrastructure for emerging countries. He also sits on the board of the Canada China Business Council.

Additional speakers and panelists will be announced in the coming days.  Like us on facebook, or follow @futureofnuclear on twitter for the latest news.

To learn more about the event and to register, visit the link below:

https://futureofnuclear2013.eventbrite.com

 

UAE energy chief states his support for nuclear power, two years after Fukushima disaster

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) energy chief Suhail Al Mazrouei recently stated his support for nuclear power, two years after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. [1] Mr. Al Mazrouei urged other nations to join the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Convention on Nuclear Safety, a set of nuclear policy benchmarks ratified by 76 nations in 1994, with the goal of “harmonizing” civil liability regimes for nuclear damage, allowing energy producers recourse to file claims in the case of an accident while limiting the total financial burden on the operator. [1]

There are many obstacles facing nuclear energy including public concerns about safety, competition from low gas prices in North America, and reduced access to credit to fund expensive reactors.  Some have forecasted that renewable energy sources such as solar and hydro will produce double the amount of electricity generated by nuclear in the coming years. Yet there are 434 nuclear power reactors already in operation, 69 reactors under construction and many more on the drawing board. [1] Despite the ongoing challenges, the development of atomic energy is progressing just fine, says Mr. Al Mazrouei. [1]

“The reality is nuclear is indispensable as part of the global energy mix today,” Hamad Al kaabi, the UAE permanent representative to the IAEA, told The National. [1] The United Arab Emirates will be home to the Arab world’s first civilian reactor in 2017.

Source:

1. Yee, April. UAE Energy chief calls for nuclear consensus. The National, http://www.thenational.ae.

Japan receives first nuclear reactor fuel shipment since Fukushima meltdown

The first shipment of nuclear fuel since the 2011 Fukushima meltdown has arrived at the port of Takahama, Japan greeted by a group of anti-nuclear protestors. [1] Japanese power company Kepco originally ordered 20 fuel assemblies of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel in 2010, but the order was delayed after the Fukushima meltdown. [1]

Nearly all of Japan’s nuclear reactors have been offline since March of 2011 when a tsunami caused meltdowns and explosions at a nuclear generation station in Fukushima.  The government recently announced updated regulations that, if met, could see Japan’s nuclear reactors back online. [2] At present, the government has not approved the restart of the reactors at Fukushima or the use of MOX fuel in any Japanese reactors. [1]

This situation doesn’t sit well with the protestors. Carrying signs with messages like “No nukes is good nukes!”, they are concerned that new regulations don’t go far enough and that the nuclear fuel will sit unused in Japanese power sites posing a safety risk. [1] Both parties await the government’s progress on restarting Japan’s reactors.

Sources:

1. Johnston, Eric. First MOX shipment since Fukushima disaster arrives in Fukui, The Japan Times, www.japantimes.co.jp

2. Japan receives 1st shipment of nuclear reactor fuel since 2011 disaster forced shutdowns, Associated Press via Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com

U.S. Department of Energy continues support for small modular nuclear reactors

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has recently shown their continued support for the development and eventual deployment of small modular nuclear reactor technology, or SMR for short.  An agreement with Babcock & Wilcox will see $150 million in funding in support of their mPower technology. [1]

SMRs have many apparent benefits over existing nuclear reactors.  The DOE’s Nuclear Energy Department say that SMRs “offer the advantage of lower initial capital investment, scalability, and siting flexibility at locations unable to accommodate more traditional larger reactors.  They also have the potential for enhanced safety and security.” [2]  This is due to intervals of four years or more between refueling.  Furthermore, Babcock & Wilcox claim that “the overnight cost for an mPower reactor is about $5,000/kW.” [1]

The estimated cost has more than doubled since 2004.  The hard numbers are still a long way away with the University of Chicago Energy Policy Institute reporting that only 20% of the detailed engineering analysis has been completed.[3]

Sources:

1. U.S. Sustains Support For Small Modular Nuclear Reactors – www.forbes.com

2. Small Modular Nuclear Reactors – US Office of Nuclear Energy

3. Small Modular Reactors – Key to Future Nuclear Power Generation in the U.S. – Energy Policy Institute at Chicago

 

Toronto hosts first Future of Nuclear conference

The first Future of Nuclear conference is to be held in Toronto, Ontario.

The Province of Ontario is home to thousands of professionals working in the field of nuclear energy, many universities that provide courses in nuclear engineering, and several operating reactors. In addition, Ontario is currently planning a refurbishment of the Darlington Nuclear Generation Station, and is in the process of reviewing Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan.  Ontario’s capital, Toronto, is the ideal location to hold the first Future of Nuclear conference.

The conference will be held July 9, 2013 at MaRS discovery district, located blocks away from the University of Toronto, the Queen’s Park Provincial Parliament buildings, and Toronto’s financial district.

Click here to learn more about the event.