Utility Week

UTILITY Week 29th September 2017

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22 | 29TH SEPTEMBER - 5TH OCTOBER 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Operations & Assets Analysis O pinions are polarised across the world on the issue of new nuclear-build. China is cracking on with a venge- ance; France is resolute in its determination to develop its third-generation technology; and Finland has been building Olkiluoto since what seems like forever but is in fact 2005. Back in Blighty, the UK has given its blessing – and a very expensive 35-year-long contract for difference (CfD) – to a £24 bil- lion (including interest) new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C. On the other side of the nuclear power spectrum, Germany has unceremoniously decided to scrap all its nuclear plants by 2022. Elsewhere in western Europe, none of Italy, Sweden, Spain, or Switzerland seem likely to invest in new nuclear power plants for decades, if ever. In the "undecided" group, some US states, such as Georgia and South Carolina, are permitting nuclear new-build – to the near extinction of Toshiba whose share price has plunged on its US nuclear woes. Fukushima-hit Japan is still seeking to frame a credible energy policy, a challenging task given its paucity of indigenous coal and gas. Despite the profound differences on nuclear power policy within many leading nations, nuclear new-build continues apace. According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), there are 447 nuclear reactors in operation, generating around 2,500TWh of power annually from plants with a total capac- ity of 392GW. According to the WNA, 58 nuclear reactors are currently being built, 20 of which are in China where demand for power continues to surge. Russia and India have seven and six reactors under construction respectively. The comparable figure for the US is four. The European component is very modest, with only Slovakia and Belarus building more than one new nuclear reactor. Inevitably, the question arises as to how nuclear power policies can vary so alarm- ingly. The pro-nuclear contingent argues that investment in such plants enables the generation of very large amounts of baseload power on a long-term basis. And despite extremely high capital expenditure costs, which have soared in recent years, the oper- ating costs of a nuclear plant remain low – the nuclear rods cost component is not high in percentage terms compared with gas input costs. Nuclear power stations can operate within an electricity system alongside coal and gas-fired plant, although in France's case it chose to "bet the farm" on nuclear back power in the 1960s and 1970s. And, on the emissions front, nuclear power scores very favourably – and certainly compared with coal-fired plant. The anti-nuclear lobby points to the exces- sive capital cost. Aer all, the £24 billion Hin- kley Point C bill is vast for a relatively modest 3,200MW of capacity. And with both Olki- luoto and Flamanville having broken their original budgets years ago, the capital cost of new nuclear is a massive concern. Furthermore, there is now an ingrained belief that all nuclear projects will come out way above budget – and years late. Operat- ing costs are also rising, partly on the back of additional safety-related expenditure. Importantly, nuclear new-build is now facing increasing competition from renewa- bles generation, despite the latter's intermit- tency. The recent UK offshore wind auction, which saw subsidy prices slashed, is perhaps a harbinger for the future. Then there is the (very slight) risk of a massive accident – the names of Three Mile Island in the US, Chernobyl in modern-day Ukraine, and Fukushima in Japan are etched on the public consciousness. In fact, Japa- nese energy policy is at a crossroads because of safety concerns – views are polarised. New power sources are desperately needed, while historically Japan has had to import substantial amounts of coal and gas. And, of course, its nuclear plants are already built, so they can operate on a marginal cost basis. The US position is particularly interest- ing as the legendary Westinghouse Corpora- tion has been plunged into bankruptcy by its Japanese parent, Toshiba. Few new US nuclear plants are underway and each one is subject to considerable controversy. In some states, alternatives are making inroads, rang- ing from shale gas in Texas to wind power in California. Nuclear power's future is far from assured, especially if its worldwide reputa- tion is tarnished by another big disaster: safety standards vary markedly from country to country. Back in the 1950s, US president Dwight Eisenhower appointed Lewis Strauss to head the US Atomic Energy Commission. It was he who sought to persuade the world that nuclear power was "too cheap to meter". He clearly mis-spoke – and in quite a major way. But it is not only on price that nuclear power is fighting for its future. For nuclear new-build projects, it is troubling times, especially in Europe where Olkiluoto was meant to be the shop window for the 21st century nuclear power industry. Nigel Hawkins, director, Nigel Hawkins Associates Mixed fortunes for nuclear Some countries are pursuing ambitious nuclear new-build programmes while others are closing their existing plants early. Nigel Hawkins looks at a technology that divides opinion. REACTORS UNDER CONSTRUCTION Country MWe gross Argentina 27 Belarus 2,388 Brazil 1,405 China 22,006 Finland 1,720 France 1,750 India 4,350 Japan 2,756 Korea (South) 4,200 Pakistan 2,322 Russia 5,904 Slovakia 942 UAE 5,600 USA 5,000 World 63,070 Source: World Nuclear Association "Few new US nuclear plants are underway and each one is subject to considerable controversy"

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