The outlook for nuclear energy globally is better than expected, but in the US it is a time of retrenchment.
This is the annual look ahead for the global nuclear energy industry. While it is too early to predict whether the high concept promises of the COP21 climate change conference will translate into concrete being poured for nuclear power stations, there are a number of positive developments.
China will continue to be the world leader in starting and completing new domestic nuclear power plants. It has 30 reactors in operation and 21 under construction. Additionally, China will continue to pursue its export drive with deals in Argentina, Romania, and the UK.
Competition from Russia’s Rosatom may be tempered by a lack of capital due to plunging oil & gas prices which are drying up funds to finance new builds in places like Turkey and Argentina.
Political disputes aside, Russia’s Rosatom has been trying, without success, to lay off some of the equity of its planned four 1200 MW VVERs to be built at Turkey’s Akkuyu site on the Mediterranean coast. Conflicting media reports indicate work at the project has been suspended for the time being. The reason is serious disputes between Russia and Turkey caused by a hot war in on Turkey’s eastern border complicated by Russia’s military presence in Syria.
An agreement to build a VVER for Argentina may go on a back burner since that country, which is broke, expects most of the financing to come from Rosatom. The project may become a signal of whether Rosatom is overextended in terms of commitments to finance new nuclear reactor projects.
The UK new build, led by the mammoth and expensive twin EPR Hinkley C project, will move ahead because that nation must replace it current aging fleet of nuclear reactors, and its North Sea natural gas reserves are nearing an end. The development of small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK, both for power generation and for export, could be a significant factor in the global market by the mid-2020s.
China has entered the UK nuclear market with a 33% equity stake in Hinkley C and a commitment from the UK government to help it get its new Hualong One 1000 MW PWR through the Generic Design Review and then slated for up to two future new build projects.
US firms NuScale and Westinghouse are investigating supply chain opportunities in the UK with an eye, long-term, towards eventual development of SMR factory manufacturing sites in the UK. Rolls-Royce, which has been making the equivalent of SMRs for the UK Royal Navy, is also developing plans to pursue commercial opportunities for SMRs.
The French nuclear fleet is likely to outlast the politically expedient alliance President François Hollande has made with the Green Party to reduce the nation’s reliance on reactors by 25%.
The French government will recapitalize Areva’s reactor division with help from outside investors most likely Chinese state owned nuclear firms and Japan’s Mitsubishi. Both entities have significant commitments with Areva for multi-billion dollar projects which makes the firm too big to fail.
EDF’s gamesmanship over what it will “pay” for its 51% equity stake in Areva will be buried in the pages of a bureaucratic budget document to avoid the public appearance of a bailout. The reason is over 85% of the stock for both firms is owned by the French government.
Finland will start work to build its sixth and seventh nuclear reactors. One will be the product of a domestic consortium and the other will be a Rosatom supplied VVER. France will settle Areva’s financial liabilities with Finland for the Olkiluoto 3 plant, and Areva will complete it by 2018.
The Czech Republic will decide in 2016 whether it will guarantee rates to support financing of at least two new reactors, one at Temelin and one at Dukovanny. The market lure of selling carbon emission free electricity to coal-dependent Germany, which closed half its nuclear fleet, is too big a deal to pass up.
Austria will continue to try to make trouble for the Czech Republic, but economic trade between the two countries is also a big deal which suggests the anti-nuclear drum rolls from Vienna are mostly intended for domestic ears.
In Romania China General Nuclear Power (CGN) will invest $7.7 billon in a project to build and operate two CANDU type reactors at Cernavoda. Canada’s SNC-Lavalin will benefit from these contracts having purchased AECL’s reactor division from the government in 2011 for a mere $15 million.
Turkey will continue to pursue development of nuclear power stations at three sites – Akkuyu, a Russian led effort, Sinop on the Black Sea, a joint venture by Mitstubishi and Areva, and at a third as yet to be named site on the western shore of the Black Sea which is likely to be a Westinghouse led effort.
The United Arab Emirates will finish all four of its South Korean built 1400 MW PWRs at the Barakah site on the Persian Gulf by 2020. The first unit is expected to start operations in 2017.
South Africa’s plans to build 9.6 GWe of nuclear power will continue to be embroiled in political controversy and be hobbled by a lack of realistic financial plans to pay for the reactors. Claims by both Rosatom and Chinese state nuclear firms that they have won the business are not credible.
Even if written down on paper, these claims of contracts cannot be guaranteed in the long term due to the political twists and turns by South African President Jacob Zuma. Most recently, he burned through three finance minister over differences about whether the country could afford the cost of the reactors said to be at as much as $100 billion including upgrades to the electrical grid. Additionally, Zuma is distracted by political and personal scandals.
The country remains plagued by brownouts and shutdowns of its heavy industries over a lack of electricity which has, in turn, depressed GDP. it needs the energy, but where, or whether it will come from nuclear power remains a crap shoot. Meanwhile, South Africa is struggling with costly delays in completing the Medupi coal power plant intended to provide 4.8 Gw of electrical power.
India will continue to thumb its nose at the West while buying its uranium. It has inked deals with Canada and Australia for uranium and started to take deliveries. It must now build an enrichment plant, a conversion plant, and a fuel fabrication facility to convert the stuff to nuclear fuel.
Areva’s Jaitpur project, for two 1600 MW EPRs, will continue to be mired in local land disputes, environmental permit controversies, and other bureaucratic impediments.
No American nuclear firms will do business with India as a result of its draconian supplier liability law driven by coal interests and the nation’s political tilt as a nonaligned nation.
India has been promising that it would seek ratification of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC) since 2008. Even if it does, that doesn’t remove the supplier liability law from the books at home.
India will break ground in 2016 for two new Rosatom 1000 MW VVERs at Kudankulam.
India will continue to build its own design of 700 MW CANDU type reactors and, for the first time, allow partnerships between NPCIL and other state-owned industries.
Two examples are to boost the equity stake in NPCIL by NALCO, the state-owned aluminum company, for a joint venture to power a smelter and finished goods factory. A second project is with L&T for a heavy steel forgings plant. The steel plant is expected to include production of large forgings for nuclear reactors as one of its product lines.
Japan will continue to restart reactors which are less than 40 years old and which can meet new safety standards set by the now independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority. Of the nation’s remaining reactors, 24 have applied to restart. Possibly as many as six will restart in 2016.
Work to restart of the two newest BWR type reactors at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Karia, a seven reactor power station, will continue in 2016. Overcoming the strident political opposition of Hirohiko Izumida, the provincial governor, will likely make it a slow process.
South Korea will begin pursuing development of spent fuel reprocessing and development of advanced fast reactors now that the crucial umbrella agreement with the US has gotten a new lease on life. The US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory is an R&D partner in the fast reactor effort.
In the US it should come as no surprise to anyone with a pocket calculator that Entergy will continue to close its cash cow reactors in the US as the price of natural gas continues to make their operation unaffordable in the long run.
In California PG&E will have to decide whether to seek a 20-year license extension from the NRC for its Diablo Canyon reactors. Intense challenges by green groups to knock off the state’s remaining reactor, along with their influence over state regulatory agencies, could make it an uphill battle.
Southern and SCE&G will continue to make progress to complete their construction of Westinghouse AP1000s. Westinghouse has restructured its supplier pipeline resolving financial liabilities hanging over these projects. Both utilities expect to have all four reactors in revenue service before the end of this decade.
TVA will bring Watts Bar II on to the grid in 2016. Although work on the reactor was started nearly three decades ago, in the final segment of the race to revenue service, the utility earned a victory lap for completing the project. Fuel was loaded in December 2015.
The quasi-government utility will continue to keep a wary eye on the potential for new nuclear power investments, but, unlike Watts Bar III, it is unlikely to ever complete either of the Bellefonte reactors. One unit was stripped years ago of most of its most useful components and the other contains the equipment which is now considered obsolete.
If TVA ever decides to pursue full size reactors again, it has the option of reviving its NRC license application for two Westinghouse AP1000s.
TVA will pursue a long-term option for one or more small modular reactors by completing an Early Site Permit application with the NRC for the at the Clinch River site.
NuScale says it has plans to submit its 50 MW SMR to the NRC for a safety design review in late 2016. If all goes well, its first customer, UAMPS, will then apply for a COL to build the first of a kind unit. No site has officially been selected for the reactor project, which could eventually be home to up to 12 50 MW units.
NuScale and UAMPS have explored the possibility of using a site at the Idaho National Laboratory located 250 miles east of Boise. However, opposition to new nuclear energy projects from two former Idaho governors recently killed an effort by the lab to conduct R&D testing of a small quantity of spent nuclear fuel.
This raises a question of what position they would take on new spent nuclear fuel from from the UAMPS power station? Based on their aggressive opposition, which included court suits over release of government documents, the outlook is problematic.
Meanwhile, the legislature in Wisconsin, possibly sensing an opportunity, has put pedal to the metal to overturn its long standing ban on new nuclear power plants. Idaho’s loss could be Wisconsin’s gain.
Efforts by start-up type firms to build advanced reactors will continue to generate a lot of media hype, but questions are abundant as to whether this activity will result in prototypes.
For venture capital firms that have invested in advanced designs, cashing out may mean licensing a design to an established reactor vendor rather than building a first-of-a-kind unit. It’s a reasonable business model for inpatient money. The question is will it work?
A key development is that Bill Gates effort with TerraPower has announced it will pursue development of a 500 Mw half-scale prototype of its design in China and will also will branch out to explore Molten Salt type designs.
The Third Way, a think tank in Washington, DC, is tracking more than three dozen advanced reactor projects at various stage of maturity.
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