The variety of new designs for nuclear energy plants is extraordinary! The sheer number of hopefuls is evidence of confidence in a nuclear future. Many of these have been held back for years by public ignorance and safety regulations – these remain, but are now increasingly seen to be inept and based on bogus science. The historical evolution of this make-believe has been exhaustively researched by Professor Edward Calabrese, a renowned toxicologist at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His findings are presented by the Health Physics Society (April 2022) as a series of 22 videos, here. I watched them all, but you don’t need to. The news is simple, the man walking in front of nuclear energy and waving a red flag, so to speak, should be out of a job! But there is much work to be done yet to ensure this happens. Many interests block the way forward and are responsible for the costs and delays.
When a similar restriction on the car industry was removed in 1896, it finally took off. The steam engines – the ones that they said might frighten the horses – were not favoured for long, but the nippy little petrol and diesel cars were rapidly accepted. Most designs failed financially, but somewhere in the pack were those built by the likes of Henry Ford who made the investment work. The same will be true of small modular reactors – and then those of Generation IV too.
It will be exciting. The safety may not be difficult, but other questions are hotly contested, like who will deploy the most viable fuel cycle, mass production methods and lifelong maintenance schedule. And then there is the need to reform the regulators and teach the public. On reflection, by his action Putin is highlighting to the public that these tasks should be engaged without delay. Our children and grandchildren should see that their future is bright!
Finnish Greens go nuclear!
From Alliance for Science 23 May 2022.
At its annual conference on 21-22 May, Finland’s Green Party - part of the government coalition - voted to adopt a fully pro-nuclear stance, the Alliance for Science reported. The party manifesto now states that nuclear is “sustainable energy” and demands the reform of current energy legislation to streamline the approval process for small modular reactors. It also supports licence extensions for existing nuclear reactors and calls for replacing Fennovoima’s recently-cancelled Hanhikivi 1 nuclear power plant with “an equal amount of stable, low-carbon baseload energy production.” Finland’s is the first Green Party to adopt such a position.
Cavendish Nuclear and X-energy collaborate on HTGRs in UK
From Nuclear Engineering International 13 May 2022.
Cavendish Nuclear, part of Babcock International Group, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with US nuclear reactor and fuel design engineering company X-energy to act as its deployment partner for High Temperature Gas Reactors (HTGRs) in the UK.
X-energy said its HTGR can support the decarbonisation of industrial heat and hydrogen at scale, as well as electricity, helping to meet the growing demand for low-carbon energy. It offers rapid deployment, with the first units set to be deployed in the US from 2027 with the UK planning to follow.
Development and deployment of HTGRs would support an increase in UK energy security, contribute towards the Government’s Net Zero commitments to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, and create considerable opportunities for the UK nuclear supply chain.
According to X-energy, the MOU complements Cavendish Nuclear’s support to all three nuclear streams in the UK Government’s Energy Security Strategy: Large Gigawatt Reactors, Small Modular Reactors, and Advanced Modular Reactors such as HTGRs with the capability to focus on industrial heat and hydrogen.
Mick Gornall, Cavendish Nuclear Managing Director, said:
The UK Government’s choice of HTGRs as its preferred technology for the Advanced Modular Reactor Research Development & Demonstration Programme gives us the opportunity to explore the significant contribution X-energy’s technology can make to decarbonizing the wider energy sector.
Clay Sell, X-energy CEO, noted:
Trans-Atlantic collaboration is a critical part of strengthening global energy security and reliability, and this partnership can help pave the way to safer and cleaner energy for all.
International standardisation – oh , yes please!
From World Nuclear News, 27 May 2022
The 4th CORDEL Regional Workshop was held in Lyon, France, from 18-20 May. The Workshop aimed to share information on the state of play and prospects for harmonisation to support the operation and new build of nuclear power plants including small modular reactors. This topic was examined from national, regional and global perspectives. Over the course of the three days, CORDEL welcomed more than 100 participants from 19 countries, with more than 45 presentations. 52 different utilities, vendors, suppliers, national and regional stakeholders, industry organisations, universities, government and regulatory agencies, international organisations were represented.
The report refers to workplans considering the IAEA’s new Nuclear Harmonisation and Standardisation Initiative announced in March 2022. Harmonisation is an innovative approach which, if successful, can support both newcomer and mature nuclear nations. Global nuclear regulators, CORDEL, WNA, IAEA and WENRA must work together to ensure that harmonised SMR deployment is conducted safely and efficiently.
News from Japan
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country will take firm steps to restart idled nuclear power plants to make maximum use of nuclear power to stabilise energy prices and supply, Reuters reported. “With priority in safety, we will take concrete steps to restart (plants), while the government is not considering to replace existing nuclear power plants with newer facilities”, Kishida told parliament.
…and about Rolls Royce SMRs in UK
Senior representatives from Rolls-Royce SMR have toured the land to the south of the Sellafield site in Cumbria, England, with Trudy Harrison, Member of Parliament for Copeland. The visit, Rolls-Royce said, was part of work to identify opportunities for small modular reactor power plants. The visit follows a recent meeting at Wylfa, on Anglesey, with Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng, where Rolls-Royce SMR CEO Tom Samson confirmed his commitment to North Wales, as well as West Cumbria, as targets for building SMR power plants.
Funding the decommissioning of UK nuclear installations
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has expressed concern on
This always assumes that these small sites should be cleaned up to a standard not required of renewables with their shorter life and much larger area. The assumption that nuclear risks are inherently greater and always increase should be re-examined.
The following account of the current position has been contributed by SONE Member, Steuart Campbell, with advice from Robert Armour.
There are essentially three models used in the UK (many variants are used overseas).
For the BNFL/UKAEA estate now the responsibility of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), no provision was made for back-end costs (they were not a priority at the time) although some of the revenue generated was effectively reinvested in the AGRs and the one PWR. The decommissioning of the Magnox power plants is estimated at £12.6 billion. The decommissioning of Sellafield, Windscale, etc has an estimated decommissioning cost of £31.5 billion. The decommissioning cost of Springfields, where Magnox fuel was produced, is estimated at £371 million. The total cost of decommissioning all Magnox activities is likely to exceed £20 billion, averaging about £2 billion per productive reactor site. The Government will have to meet all these costs via the NDA.
For the newer stations, on privatisation in 1996 British Energy started building up a segregated decommissioning fund: the Nuclear Liabilities Fund (NLF) to meet those costs in due course. When it went into restructuring (completed in 2005) the NLF, as first ranking creditor, received the majority of the proceeds of reflotation (HMG’s share) and a guarantee that if the NLF proved insufficient, Government would meet the shortfall. NLF invests the funds long term to meet the expected profile of decommissioning costs. Some of the fund was invested in the National Loans Fund (low risk low return) at the behest of the Treasury. As interest rates collapsed and liability estimates grew, that became increasingly untenable and HMG therefore agreed a top up mechanism to insulate NLF from low rates so that it would maintain sufficiency. The rest of the funds were invested in a diverse portfolio targeting the premium for long term investments. That mixed asset portfolio is skewed towards infrastructure and ESG investments. The NLF and its owner, The Nuclear Trust (beneficiaries are the UK public) are charged with only using the funds for paying for the defueling/decommissioning costs of the AGRs and Sizewell B. The money is ring-fenced and at present totals about £14.7 billion. See The future of the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors - Committee of Public Accounts (parliament.uk) for an update on this matter. The Nuclear Trust is a Scottish Trust with five trustees and based in Edinburgh. By convention, the trustees of the Nuclear Trust appoint themselves as directors of the NLF, with the Trust Chair chairing the NLF Board. Three of the Trustee-Directors are appointed by the Government (BEIS) and two by EDF Energy.
A third model applies for new nuclear build. So the Hinkley Point C (HPC) Funded Decommissioning Plan was a key part of its consenting process. That fund, held separately from EDF in Trust, will be built up over 37 years from first generation with annual contributions by HPC so it’s fully funded by the end of the CfD period. The funding target is an 80 per cent confidence level plus 25 per cent uplift against a decommissioning plan reviewed by NDA.
In short there are three models:
- For the old stuff, Government pays from current revenues.
- For the modern stations, the NLF is designed to hold and invest the funds to meet the task.
- For new stations, there is a new model designed to create an adequately funded segregated fund to insulate the taxpayer. Sizewell C is likely to be a variant of this adjusted for a Regulatory Asset Based model.
From a contribution by Marie Zabell.
This is a nuclear advocacy campaign led by Zion Lights [A member of the panel at the SONE AGM in 2000 and previously spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion.] The group was set up to raise awareness of the role of nuclear energy in decarbonisation. The Emergency Reactor website enables anyone to sign up and receive posters to photograph and share online, and also receive a newsletter detailing any upcoming public events around Britain. At public events we hand out free bananas to engage in a conversation with passers-by curious about their link to nuclear and radioactivity.
Zion says of Emergency Reactor (taken from podcast In Perspective: Energy Poverty, Climate Change, and The Nuclear Challenge)
Good conversation opens up and most people like bananas. We have information on whatever they think the issues are. It might be waste, it might be radiation, or it might be Fukushima, it comes up a lot, or it might be something else. Then we just give them the leaflets and they can go away and look up themselves, which actually I find people are very good at doing now, especially younger generation. They’re very savvy about fact checking. So, you know, you can say what you need to say, and then they can go off and look up themselves. And most people I found say, “oh, actually I agree with you. I didn’t know any of this.” So, the problem is a lack of information and a huge amount of misinformation.
Articles posted this month
A short article published in the New Statesman special supplement on Energy and Climate Change on 27 May 2022.
A longer article “The only source of energy sufficient on its own”.
A talk on the merits of nuclear by Neville Chamberlain given at a seminar on the future of energy organised by the Worshipful Company of Fuellers and EY in London in May.
Oxford, 1 June 2022