Investing in New Nuclear Reactors Turns Out to Be Really Important in France, UK, China, Japan, and South Korea

  • turnaroundThese nations were on a kind of glide path to failure to maintain or renew their respective fleets of nuclear reactors. 
  • The reality of keeping the lights on, and factories humming, and exports flowing, have opened the eyes of even some of the most “green” of politicians.

Update Feb 6, 2019: Spanish Government moves the goal posts – extends Life of nation’s nuclear fleet to 2036.
Update Feb 10, 2019: Belgium Govenment says a complete phaseout of nuclear power by 2025 is not realistic, Belgium’s interior minister Pieter De Crem said on Feb 10th.

After watching Germany’s self-destructive decision to close half of its nuclear energy fleet, shift to Russian natural gas, and re-open the dirtiest types of coal mines (lignite), other nations are starting to have second thoughts about giving up their nuclear reactors as well.

Here are a few highlights and some detailed reports for each of these countries that are now having second thoughts about giving up on nuclear energy. They are taking action to preserve their fleets and even expand them.

France

France is walking back the decision by a previous prime minister to slash the fleet in half. Instead, it will close older reactors as they reach the end of their service lives. Despite the promises of Green Party politicians for more a more aggressive schedule, only the Fessenheim nuclear station, built in 1978, is actually scheduled to close by 2020.

The government also said it would preserve an option to build new 1650 MW EPRs after 2021, which is well before the first round of 14 closures of smaller, older reactors, takes place in 2035.

Also, the new plan is less aggressive than what would be in a schedule the country might adopt if it set a deadline for closing plants, without regard to condition, at the 40 year mark. Here’s a scorecard.

  • 32 reactors with power ratings on average of 900 MW reach the 40 year mark in a narrow range of 2023-2028.
  • 20 reactors with power rating on average of 1300 MW reach the 40 year mark in a 10 year range of 2029-2040
  • 2 reactors with power ratings of 1450 MW reach the 40 year mark in 2040.

The problem for France, which is not yet not addressed, is how it it will replace its fleet with a combination of new nuclear reactors, gas, and renewables, and how it will upgrade its grid to accommodate the new mix of power sources. France produces more nuclear energy than any other country, getting about 71% of its electricity from its fleet of reactors at 19 nuclear stations.

England

The UK government, deeply distracted by its Brexit breakup with the European Union, has suddenly realized that its grand plan to build 19 GWe of new nuclear power is on the rocks.  The Moorside (Toshiba) and Wylfa (Hitachi) projects have turned turtle over differences between the vendors and the government as to costs and financing methods.

However, after a December decision to shut down Wylfa, Hitachi is now saying it is willing to come back to the negotiation table with the UK government. For its part, the UK Energy ministry is working on a new regulated rate method of providing income to the vendor. Decisions are not likely to come quickly, but the UK government says it will offer a financial plan for both projects by this summer.

China

After a two year pause, China has authorized two projects to break ground. They will each build twin 1000 MW Hualong One reactors. Both projects are coastal sites and the result will four new Gen III design PWRs. Plans to build 4 Hualong One nuclear reactors at these coastal sites, Huizhou, Zhanghou, were already on short list for new construction starts as long ago as March 2018.

The Chinese state owned enterprises that get government money for these projects appear to have dodged a budget bullet. As the Chinese economy cools, funding for multi-billion dollar projects is coming under review, but these project got green lights. China’s distressing air pollution is caused in part by fossil fuel power plants. These new reactors will help address the problem.

South Korea

Despite a concerted effort by a “reform-minded” government, South Korea’s plans to phase out nuclear power are getting a second look and progress is being made to expand the fleet which now has 24 units. South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission this week gave Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power permission to begin operation of unit 4 at the Shin Kori nuclear power plant. With few domestic coal or natural gas resources, the inescapable fact is that South Korea’s economy and industrial production capabilities, and exports, depend on reliable electric power from its fleet of nuclear reactors.

Spain

(Update 02/06/19) The Spanish Government will have nuclear energy for the next 17 years. This is what the minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, has told the three top executives of the three big electricity companies, Ignacio Galán (Iberdrola), José Bogas (Endesa) and Francisco Reynés (Naturgy) at a historic summit to discuss the nuclear blackout of Spain this week.

According to El Periodico de la Energía, the Government has informed the companies that they are to prepare a schedule to close of each of the operational nuclear power plants in Spain (Ascó, Vandellós, Almaraz, Trillo and Cofrentes) in such a way that the proposal will keep the plants operational until at least 2025. In other words, all nuclear power plants will remain active at least until 2025 and possibly for as long as 2036..

The nuclear shutdown will extended so that some of the power stations may have service lives of up to 50 years. The final closure of each plant will be negotiated with the owner utilities.

The owners of each plant will propose the final closure of the plant. Therefore, each plant will have a production deadline and will have to be between 2025 and 2036.

& & &

Here additional details on these developments in each of these nations as reported by various online news media.

Shutdown Plans Do Not Signal ‘Nuclear Exit Strategy,’
Says French Minister

(NucNet): Nuclear energy plays an important role in France’s energy strategy and plans to permanently shut down four to six reactor units by 2028 do not indicate that the government has a nuclear exit strategy, ecology minister François de Rugy said reversing an effort by greens in the government to slash to size of the fleet in half.

His comments came as Greenpeace “attacked” a French nuclear reactor by flying a drone over it and dropping a smoke bomb on the roof of one of the buildings at the site.

Despite the high profile publicity stunt, this past week France’s government unveiled its energy strategy for the next 10 years, which includes closing just four to six reactor by 2028. All of them are older, and smaller, units.

Last November president Emmanuel Macron said France will shut down 14 commercial nuclear reactors by 2035 out of 58, all operated by state-controlled utility EDF. This change is a reduction by more than half from the original plan.

Mr de Rugy said, “We consider that in the production of electricity in France, and probably in Europe and in the world. Nuclear power can play a role since it presents a completely carbon-free production.”

Mr de Rugy said the government is waiting for EDF’s proposals, due in 2021, before deciding on the construction of new EPR reactors in France. The minister said the decision would be based on cost, funding assessments and technical feasibility. The government wants to wait for the start of the Flamanville-3 EPR, the only one under construction in France.

EDF may offer changes that are improvements to the 1650 MW EPR. It may also offer a smaller and more affordable, 1100 MW, version which was developed in collaboration with Mitsubishi. Either way by 2021 the EPRs in Finland, France, and China will all have several years of operational experience for EDF to draw on for the next generation of the design.

Last week the French nuclear industry signed a contract with the government and unions, covering the period 2019-2022, which proposes an action plan for the nuclear industry.

Under the contract, Framatome will develop a new version of the EPR and will work with EDF and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, or CEA, to develop a small modular reactor (SMR) based on French technology. France has lagged behind other nations in developing plans for small modular reactors. Now it has an opportunity to catch up.

See prior coverage on this blog  Will France Fry Its Nuclear Future for Short-Term Political Gain?

Japan Must Build New Nuclear Plants,
Says Industry Group President

(NucNet): Japan must build new nuclear power plants and develop its human resources if it is to maintain and improve existing supply chains and export nuclear technology, Japan Atomic Industrial Forum president Akio Takahashi said at a press conference.

He said there was a general trend towards the personal involvement of government leaders in selling major infrastructure projects overseas and there are also limits on what private sector companies can do on their own.

Hitachi said earlier this month it had suspended the Wylfa project because of rising construction costs and a failure to reach an agreement on financing with the UK government.

In November, Toshiba said it was winding up NuGen, the company overseeing plans to build three Westinghouse AP1000 units at Moorside in northwest England. The firm cut off negotiations with South Korea to take over the project due in part to financial differences about the deal.

If the UK government comes up with a reliable method to pay fort the project, South Korea might re-enter discussions to take over the effort, but it would have to take its 1400 MW PWR type design through the UKGeneric Design Assessment (GDA) process to get permission to build them there.

Japan has been slowly restarting its nuclear fleet. Also, it has realized that recent setbacks in the UK, Turkey, Vietnam, and elsewhere have challenged its long term plans to be a global leader in terms of nuclear energy exports. It follows that for the sake of credibility, it cannot sell reactors abroad if it does not build and operate them at home.

Wylfa Project Might Resume With Viable Financing Scheme From UK

(NucNet): Hitachi might consider “unfreezing” its plans to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd in north Wales if the UK government can demonstrate a viable financing scheme, company president Toshiaki Higashihara said at a press conference in Tokyo last week.

According to industry group the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Mr Higashihara said a “zero-based review of processes and costs” would also be required for resumption of the project to build two advanced boiling water reactors on the site on the isle of Anglesey.

Mr Higashihara expressed concern for Hitachi’s ability to maintain its technological capabilities in design and construction, given the current domestic environment for the nuclear energy industry in Japan, where the focus is on restarting existing reactors and decommissioning not only the units at Fukushima, but also other older reactors for which it is too costly to upgrade them to the latest safety standards.

Japan has two reactors under construction. Shimane 3, a 1373 MW ABWR, began safety checks with the Nuclear Regulatory Agency in August 2018. Ahma 1, a simiolar ABWR, is scheduled to restart construction in 2020 and complete that work in the second half of 2025.

Japan also has 13 Gwe of nuclear power in terms of proposed new reactors on the books, but work on all of them was deferred or suspended following the Fukushimia crisis. All of the units are ABWR designs in the range of 1300 MW.  The government hasn’t said much about the status of these plans.

Mr Higashihara said there was “a sense of crisis” and that Hitachi would address the issue of ensuring future nuclear human resources with other reactor manufacturers.  Clearly, he wants a turn around at Wylva to avoid the consequences of the loss of yet another export deal which will have ramifications for other nuclear vendors in Japan and their supply chains.

UK Needs To ‘Make Up Its Mind’ On Nuclear,
Consider RAB Financing Model, Says Oxford Economist

(NucNet): The UK government needs to make up its mind whether it is serious about nuclear and prepared to do it properly, which means it has to make key strategic decisions, stick to them over the long term and allow a supply chain to be developed and sustained over decades, an economist specializing in energy infrastructure wrote in a new report.

In an article published on his website, Prof. Dieter Helm of the University of Oxford said one option for nuclear policy is for the government to use the regulated asset base (RAB) model for EDF’s planned two-unit Sizewell C project.

Helm wrote that RAB financing would transform nuclear economics because it is a well-tried model used for other large infrastructure projects in the UK and should produce a lower cost of capital and a very different risk sharing profile.

RAB financing is essentially a type of contract drawn up with the backing of government, which calculates the costs and profits of a project before it is started, and allocates an investor’s profits from day one.  In other words, it is a confidence building method for the firm building the project and its investors.

A government regulator sets a fixed number, the RAB, which attempts to account for all the future costs involved in the completion of a project. The regulator then also sets a fixed rate of return for the investors based on those costs.

Prof. Helm said nuclear offers large-scale low-carbon electricity, but renewables still need to meet this challenge and to cope with winters.

“The key question is whether renewables can, without nuclear, meet the carbon budgets and targets at reasonable cost, and whether the intermittency problem is going to get solved,” he said.

“Without more nuclear renewables would have to fill the capacity left by not only coal and gas, but also nuclear stations as they retire from the system. This is the choice government needs to make. It has to decide, one way or the other.”

China’s Approves Four New Reactors After a Two-year pause

MIT Technology Review reports that Beijing has approved the construction of four new nuclear reactors using a domestically developed design, according to Chinese news reports.

China’s Jiemian News said that two dual-reactor projects have received provisional permission to begin pouring concrete. CNNC and CGN have not responded to the media reports.

The reactors are slated for two new sites along China’s coast: CNNC’s Zhangzhou power project in Fujian and CGN’s Huizhou Taipingling project in Guangdong. Both projects had been planned and approved by Chinese authorities to use Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design.  In 2018 China reported in March of that year that the reactors listed in the table below would have construction starts. The actual go-head came two months into 2019.

China Nuclear Coastal Sites

Data via World Nuclear Association

Prior coverage on this blogChina to start building 6-8 new nuclear reactors in 2018

South Korea Gives Go-Ahead to Start Newest Nuclear Reactor

(WNN) South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission today gave Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power permission to begin operation of unit 4 at the Shin Kori nuclear power plant.

Construction of the first pair of APR1400 reactors – Shin Kori 3 and 4 – was authorized in 2006, although the actual construction license was not issued until April 2008. First concrete for Shin Kori 3 was poured in October 2008, with that for unit 4 following in August 2009.

Unit 3 was originally scheduled to enter commercial operation at the end of 2013, with unit 4 due to start in September 2014. However, their operation was delayed by the need to test safety-related control cabling and its subsequent replacement.

Unit 3 eventually reached first criticality in December 2015, was connected to the grid in January 2016 and entered commercial operation in December that year.

At a meeting last week, the NSSC approved the start up of Shin Kori 4 after considering the results of an inspection carried out by the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety Agency.

Belgium Nuclear Phaseout Not Realistic, Says Interior Minister

(NucNet) A complete phaseout of nuclear power by 2025 is not realistic, Belgium’s interior minister Pieter De Crem said on Feb 10th.

Mr De Crem, a member of the pro-phaseout Christian Democratic and Flemish party, said “all the indicators tell me that consumption will increase to such an extent that we will need an exception period or an extension [of nuclear]”.

He said a debate is needed on nuclear energy and on the new generation of nuclear power plants and “everything must be open for discussion”.

Belgium has a fleet of seven Belgian commercial nuclear reactors – three at Tihange near Liege and four at Doel near Antwerp – providing almost 50% of the country’s electricity.

Plans to shut them down by 2025 were established in a law of 2003. They were confirmed in 2015 and by the current government of prime minister Charles Michel last spring.

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