News Brief: China’s Nuclear Energy Developments

Last week, Mike Orcutt at MIT Technology Review wrote an update on China’s nuclear energy development plans.

China is rapidly moving up the global nuclear power leaderboard. Since 2012, as the traditional leaders in nuclear energy production have remained stagnant or backed off of their reliance on nuclear in the wake of Fukushima, China has added 11 new reactors and over 11 gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity.

As Orcutt notes, by the end of this year China is expected to pass South Korea and Russia to become the fourth largest producer of nuclear energy in the world. He links to an interesting infographic that highlights the differential in nuclear energy growth around the world.

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Image Source: MIT Technology Review

China is clearly in the lead when it comes to capacity growth, with Russia and India not far behind. However, as the infographic notes, it will be important to keep an eye on those nations that have yet to produce nuclear energy but plan to do so. As we’ve highlighted here at Future of Nuclear, those countries – and the new technologies they apply – will be interesting to watch.

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.

Russia makes an offer to tender two nuclear power plants in Argentina

July 14, 2014 – Messi lookalike and Economy Minister Axel Kicillof and other top Argentine politicians met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Energy Minister Alexander Novak to discuss cooperation and sign a deal to develop two new Rosatom nuclear plants in Argentina. Details of the story are available by  clicking this article in the Buenos Aries Herald.

From an international perspective these negotiations depict the high level of official government involvement that is often required in nuclear energy deals. The united efforts of Russia’s President and Economy Minister is in stark contrast to the noticeably absent support that Prime Minster Stephen Harper has shown for marketing Canadian Candu reactors abroad.  How should Canada compete with Russia and other nations to export Canadian nuclear technology and expertise around the world?

In a recent post we pointed out that Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation Reza Moridi was actively supporting and advocating on behalf of Candu and other Canadian interests at a conference in China. In the high stakes game of international energy, heads of state need to get involved. 

Russia’s BN-800 fast breeder reactor goes critical

Russia has completed construction of its latest fast breeder reactor or FBR and has begun controlled nuclear fission.  The reactor will slowly ramp up power until it reaches its maximum output of 880 megawatts in early 2015.  It is expected to operate for 45 years producing an incredible 475 million kilowatt hours of electricity in its lifetime.

FBRs are a technological step beyond conventional nuclear reactors.  They have the advantage of being able to “burn” a wider variety of fissile materials than other nuclear reactors including the fissile waste from other reactors.  The name “breeder” comes from their ability to produce more plutonium than they consume.  The ability to consume waste and produce plutonium has many nations, including Russia, India, China, France, and others, as well as the IAEA, envisioning a closed fuel cycle where conventional reactors produce fuel for breeder reactors which produce fuel for conventional reactors.  Russia sees the BN-800 reactor as a  step towards achieving this goal.

The next stage is construction of the BN-1200, which is scheduled to be assembled in the same plant as the BN-800 by the year 2020.  In total, Russia hopes to construct 8 BN-1200 reactors by the year 2030.  While there are other fast breeder reactors operating around the globe, Russia is the only nation to successfully deploy the technology on an industrial scale.


RT: Fast reactor starts clean nuclear energy era in Russia

World Nuclear Association: Fast Neutron Reactors

IAEA: Assessment of nuclear energy systems based on a closed nuclear fuel cycle with fast reactors

The Future of Nuclear Power and The Long View

Below is a comment from Future of NuclearChair Henry Vehovec on his opening remarks and in response to post-event press coverage:

“The day after Wednesday’s Future of Nuclear 2013 Conference in Toronto the Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Province of Ontario announced that new build nuclear reactors would not be pursued at this time. Articles in the press cited pricing pressure from cheap shale gas, a decline in energy demand, and increased resistance to nuclear power in the post-Fukushima world as reasons for the decision. Although there has been a recent decline in nuclear power in the global energy mix it would be premature to dismiss nuclear in the longer term.

Henry Vehovec, Chair, Future of Nuclear

Henry Vehovec, Chair, Future of Nuclear

The global mix of major energy sources evolves over decades and plays out in time frames of a century or more. The first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, however, it wasn’t until the development of the Model-T Ford fifty years later that oil truly took off as a major global energy source. Similarly, civilian nuclear energy started about fifty years ago and the industry now needs game changing innovation if it is to compete with shale gas and address concerns of radioactive waste, safety and proliferation.

Are there any such game changing innovations on the horizon? At the Future of Nuclear Conference we heard about several nuclear technologies that hold the paradigm shifting potential to compete with shale gas.  New nuclear technologies that are on the drawing board can burn spent fuel, are incapable of meltdown, and do not produce fissile material. We heard about fusion from General Fusion, thorium and molten salt reactors (MSR) from Terrestrial Energy, small modular reactors (SMR) from Babcock and Wilcox, portable reactors, travelling reactors, floating reactors and more. These technologies have attracted investors such as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates as well as some of the wealthiest sovereign funds. The only problem with most of these technologies is that they require at least a decade to develop and would cost several billion dollars to produce their first prototype let alone a commercially available product. In this era of short term pressures for quarterly results in business and governments that rarely think beyond the horizon of a 4-year election term it is difficult to find jurisdictions that plan decades into the future as is required when considering energy infrastructure.

China, India, Russia and UAE are examples of countries that are taking an appropriate long view to energy planning. Not coincidentally, these are also among the countries that are proceeding aggressively with their plans to build nuclear power capabilities. China alone has 29 reactors currently under construction. Although some jurisdictions in the west do not have local demand to support new reactors it would certainly make sense to stay engaged with the industry and act as a supplier to international markets where possible. As a commodity, shale gas will not be cheap and plentiful forever.”