Slow growth for nuclear energy in Japan, Vietnam

Both nations face self-imposed regulatory hurdles
and lower demand for electricity

slowedIt’s a no-brainer that Japan will likely emerge from the Fukushima crisis with fewer nuclear reactors than it had in operation in 2010. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s ambitious plans to build at least eight 1000 MW class reactors has been pushed back by three to five years.

In the past three years both nations have become net importers of fossil fuels and plans to increase use of solar and wind power have fallen victim to the intermittent nature of these power sources and related rate issues, especially in Japan. In Vietnam, available hydropower sites are reported to be tapped out while coal use has increased along with related costs.

Japan government sets 20% nuclear energy target by 2030

According to Japanese English language media reports, the government of PM Shinzo Abe continues to promote nuclear energy as “an important base-load power source” despite broad public misgivings about it due to the Fukushima catastrophe that took place in March 2011.

ph_miyazawaMETI Minister Yoichi Miyazawa (right), the third person in this post since Abe took office, says the government is targeting about 20% of its electricity supply from nuclear energy by 2030.  Estimates about how many of the nation’s idled nuclear reactors will be restarted are all over the map. A consensus verges on about 24-26 of the 48 remaining reactors getting the green light to restart from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) by the end of 2015.  Of that number, about one-third to one half are actually likely to return to revenue service over the next 12 months.

Local opposition to some restarts may delay some of them including the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station which has seven ABWR type units. TEPCO has slated Units 6 & 7, 1300 MW units built in the mid-1990s, for restart, but significant opposition from provincial officials will not be easy to overcome. Complicating the government’s position on accelerated restarts are statistics that show demand for electricity in Japan, which is in a recession, is down 3.5% compared to the same period last year.

The opposition is fired up by news media which are filled with continuing stories of setbacks in decommissioning and decontamination at Fukushima, resettlement of evacuees with related compensation issues, and recently decisions by government prosecutors not to bring criminal charges against TEPCO executives.

Meanwhile, METI Minister Miyazawa has said he will not oppose completion of reactors that were under construction in March 2011. He has not committed to building new reactors to replace at least five smaller units, and older, now slated for decommissioning. The government still has to work out financial arrangements with nuclear utilities for the newest members of the 40 plus club, a reference to the fact the units are more than 40 years old.

Authorizing new starts will be even more of a public policy issue that finishing reactors already under construction. The reason is that if the government, having licensed the start of construction of a new power station, arbitrarily revokes that license, it could be financially liable for all construction costs to date.  On the other hand, planned power stations which are not started, have no substantial costs associated with them.

The government has recently had to face the reality that dependence on solar and wind power isn’t going to work as a replacement for nuclear reactors due to the fact they cannot be depended on for base load power to keep the lights on for Japan’s heavy industries. It follows that to avoid fiscally ruinous balance of trade deficits caused by imports of fossil fuel. the nation will have to face the necessity of building entirely new starts for 1000 NMW class nuclear reactors.

Further, Japan, which is not self-sufficient in terms of growing its own food, pays for imports with exports of durable goods. The factories that produce cars, machinery, and high end electronics all need the cheap electricity that comes from nuclear power.

PM Abe knows the government is whistling down a dark alley if it thinks it can set and keep a lower target of 20% of electricity from nuclear energy. In 2010 nuclear energy provided 29% of electricity from nuclear power with a goal of 50% by 2030. For the nation’s economy to grow, and not just limp along, it will have to face the prospect of at least coming even with that number or higher.

Whether the government, and the Japanese nuclear industry can make the case for restarts and new construction depends on whether it can convince its fearful population that the alternatives are much worse. The government is unlikely to state the case in stark terms, but its political and business leaders undoubtedly understand the choices they face.

Vietnam pushes back start date for construction of 1st of eight reactors

delayThe government of Vietnam has pushed back the date for breaking ground on its first nuclear reactor by two years from 2017 to 2019. This delay comes on top of an early postponement that set the 2017 date.

Hoang Anh Tuan, head of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Agency, told western news media the week of Jan 23 that the reason for the delay is that the government isn’t ready to manage the project nor does it have a mature and independent nuclear safety and regulatory oversight agency. A national nuclear safety agency was set up in 2010, but more work is needed according to this report.

The need for the reactors is still high since the country has become a net importer of fossil fuel. Also, the country has pitched itself to international manufacturing concerns as having reliable electricity.  In 2010 the county won the construction and operation of one of Intel’s largest computer chip manufacturing centers. The plant has created thousands of high technology jobs. To keep these jobs, and get more, the reactors are the best choice the country has for long-term reliable base load power.

The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago that Vietnam has plans for 13 reactors.  Official plans still only call for eight.

Planned Reactors for Vietnam
(Data and Chart courtesy of World Nuclear Association)

image

Rostom has a contract to build the first two of four planned 1200 MW VVER nuclear reactors at a Ninh Thuan, a coastal site (map below) which will aid in delivery of large components. Cam Rhan Bay, a major port city, is located just over the northern border of the province. cam rhan bay

Financing will be provided by Rosatom vi an $8 billion loan. Vietnam’s State-owned EVN utility is reported to be putting up another $3 billion for the plants.

Vietnam also has an agreement with Japan Atomic Power to plan the development of a second 2200 MW power station in the same region.  WNA reports that the Japanese government offered an $11 billion contract, also that a consortium of Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Hitachi bid for the project. The plants will be state-owned under EVN, with no private equity.

Both Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi are training Vietnamese nuclear engineers at their US locations in Pittsburgh, PA, and Wilmington, NC, respectively.  Rosatom is training engineers at a facility in Russia.

WNA reports that while electricity demand ramped up quickly through 2014, it it is seen as hitting a plateau through 2020.

While Vietnam does have some uranium deposits, it plans to import all nuclear fuel for the reactors and retrograde spent fuel back to suppliers.

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