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NUCLEAR EDITION

JULY 2012

Future Power
Technology

THE

NUCLEAR

BETWEEN SHUTDOWNS AND EXPANSION,


STRESS TESTS AND NEW TECHNOLOGY,
NUCLEAR POWER IS FINDING ITS
PLACE IN THE FUTURE ENERGY MIX

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

ISSUE

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

JULY 2012
UK NUCLEAR PERSPECTIVES
The UKs expansion plans could be in
jeopardy as foreign investors pull out

THE ATOMIC DRAGON


Chinas hard-line nuclear programme
still has many challenges to overcome

UNDER PRESSURE
Have the European stress tests done
enough to ensure safer nuclear power?

BREED AND BURN


The traveling wave reactor is a Gen IV
fast breeder that breeds its own fuel

GENERATION IV
How a new wave of reactor designs aims
to improve safety and efficiency

TOXIC ISSUE
Bury or recycle? We explore the options
for dealing with spent nuclear fuel

U-TURN ON THORIUM
Claimed to be safer and greener than
uranium, thorium is the fuel to watch

INDUSTRY PROJECT
Plant Vogtle will house the first new US
nuclear plant to be built in 30 years

THE ATOMIC
DRAGON

China has the worlds most ambitous nuclear


programme, but a lack of safety and skills is
hampering the countrys expansion plans

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UK NUCLEAR
PERSPECTIVES
PLANS FOR UK NUCLEAR POWER COULD BE IN JEOPARDY AS FOREIGN
INVESTORS BEGIN TO ABANDON THEIR PLANT PROPOSALS. SARAH BLACKMAN
INVESTIGATES WHETHER NUCLEAR IS THE BEST FIT FOR FUTURE GENERATION
THE UK MAY be powerless to stop new nuclear
plans from falling apart as European politicians
opt out of a nuclear future and foreign investors
are forced to follow suit. Under a year ago
Britain appeared unfazed by nuclear declaring
that eight new sites would replace aging
capacity by 2025.
Energy minister Charles Hendry was adamant
that the UK would fill the widening energy gap
with what he described as a secure, low carbon
and affordable energy resource, even after

Japans Fukushima disaster in March 2011.


But, with the recent announcement that E.ON
and RWE npower have pulled out of their joint
venture to build new reactors in Wales and
Gloucestershire and rumours that EdF could
be influenced by French politics to abandon its
construction plans in Somerset, the UK nuclear
programme could be in trouble. Hendry still
remains optimistic about nuclear but even he
appears unable to guarantee that any of the
agreed new nuclear power plants will go ahead
on time and at a reasonable price.

EDF HAS COMMITTED


MUCH TO ITS UK NUCLEAR
INVESTMENT AND WILL NOT
BACK OFF LIGHTLY, AND WE
WOULD EXPECT A STRONG
FOCUS FROM BOTH EDF
AND THE UK GOVERNMENT
TO MAKE THIS WORK

FAIRLY UNSCATHED BY THE


DISASTER IN FUKUSHIMA, CHINA
STILL RUNS THE WORLDS MOST
HARD-LINE NUCLEAR PROGRAMME.
ELISABETH FISCHER INVESTIGATES
THE CHALLENGES THAT REMAIN
ON CHINAS PATH TO SUCCESSFUL
NUCLEAR EXPANSION

THE
ATOMIC
DRAGON

IN THE WAKE of the triple meltdown at the


Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March 2011,
some Western nations have looked to move away
from nuclear power, but in China , where energy
demand is going through the roof, the appetite
for nuclear power is growing bigger and bigger.
With 14 nuclear power reactors currently active
and 27 new-builds under construction, nearly half
of all the nuclear reactors worldwide are being
built in China. According to the World Nuclear
Association (WNA), China has the most ambitious
nuclear agenda worldwide.
Even though it suspended permits for new plants
after March 2011, it is also accelerating the pace
of becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and
fuel supply, with plans in place to have more than
100 reactors in operation by 2020.
Some in the industry believe China is on its way to
becoming a new nuclear superpower but hurdles
such as safety and security issues as well as a lack
of skilled professionals are still in the way of the
countrys successful nuclear expansion.

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STRESS TESTS CONDUCTED AT


EUROPEAN NUCLEAR PLANTS
HAVE FOUND LITTLE WRONG, BUT
HAS ENOUGH BEEN DONE POSTFUKUSHIMA? ELISABETH FISCHER
EXPLORES REGULATIONS AND
SAFETY AT EUROPEAN PLANTS

UNDER
PRESSURE

FOLLOWING THE DISASTER at the Japanese


Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March 2011,
concerns about the general safety of nuclear
power generation dictated the global political
debate. In response, the European Commission
(EC) decided to assess the safety of the Unions
nuclear power plants to find out how prepared
they are for natural disasters, terrorism, cyber
threats and human error.
In May 2011, the European nuclear watchdogs
agreed on the details of voluntary inspections,
conducted by national regulators and overseen
by the EC and European Nuclear Safety Regulator
Group (ENSREG). First reports, published in late
2011 and in April 2012, suggest all nuclear power
plants are safe and only minor improvements
are needed. However, the inspections have faced
criticism and have been dubbed stress tests lite.
While operators and regulators believe in the
efficiency of the tests, anti-nuclear groups and
some politicians suggest the tests were watered
down, conducted too quickly and will lead to no
safety improvements, raising the question of
how efficient the stress tests really are.

BREED
AND
BURN
STORING NUCLEAR WASTE IS A MAJOR CHALLENGE BUT COULD A
NEW BREED OF REACTOR SOLVE THIS? MITCH BEEDIE PROFILES
TERRAPOWERS TRAVELING WAVE REACTOR

A HIDDEN COST of todays nuclear power is


the waste it produces. World stockpiles of
depleted uranium are reported at 1.5
million tons. This needs to be kept safe for
thousands of years, despite the economic
and social conditions in many countries.
The Generation IV International Forum (GIF)
has identified six types of new reactor to
solve this and other problems with nuclear
power. They aim to reduce construction and
running costs while improving sustainability,
safety and reliability.
TerraPowers Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR)
is a fast breeder that uses fast neutrons and
breeds its own fuel. Started off with a small
amount of low enriched material, the reactor
runs on depleted uranium.
The next generation of nuclear reactors could
thus run by extracting the energy left over in
the spoils of the present nuclear generation.
The TWR is also known as a breed-and-burn
or burning-wave reactor. A burn wave is
started with a small core of enriched fissile
U-235 but continues with only fertile material
like depleted uranium U-238.

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GENERATION IV (GEN IV) reactors are emerging


as the great new hope for nuclear generation,
with the technologys supporters claiming that
improved safety and efficiency features can help
the industry overcome anti-nuclear sentiments.
Goals laid down by the Generation IV International
Forum (GIF) aim to make nuclear the most viable
solution for energy production, including aspects
such as sustainability, safety, reliability, economics,
proliferation resistance, and physical protection.
As well as being suited to hydrogen production
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TOXIC ISSUE
THE CLOCK IS TICKING FOR
GOVERNMENTS TRYING TO FIND
PERMANENT DISPOSAL SITES FOR
SPENT FUEL WHILE AGEING NUCLEAR
PLANTS CLOSE. SARAH BLACKMAN
EXPLORES WHETHER THIS HAZARDOUS
SUBSTANCE COULD BE RECYCLED TO
MAKE OTHER FUEL SOURCES

PLANS FOR NEW nuclear power capacity are far


from concrete, particularly in western Europe,
where politicians and experts are debating the
economic viability of such schemes. Irrespective
of the future, however, there are ageing plants to
consider, as well as the issue of thousands of tons
of waste that will need to be dealt with.
Plant closures currently published in the UK show
the first AGR plant will be decommissioned in
2016. By 2020, nuclear capacity could be reduced
to less than half todays level, at around 4.6GW.
Meanwhile in Germany, all existing plants are
set to close by 2022, with no plans to replace
them. France could also see a nuclear switch-off
if president Francois Hollande upholds his pledge
to shut 24 of the countrys 58 reactors.
So much capacity projected to come offline raises
the question of how and where the potentially
harmful spent fuel will be permanently disposed
of, or if it could even be reused as a fuel source.

WHEN SPENT FUEL COMES


OUT OF REACTORS, YOU HAVE
USED ABOUT FIVE PERCENT
OF URANIUM RESOURCE AND
ONCE YOU BURN FUEL AND
STICK IT IN A HOLE IN THE
GROUND, YOU ARE WASTING
THAT URANIUM

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U-TURN ON
THORIUM
THE DEBATE ON WHETHER
THORIUM COULD BE A BETTER
NUCLEAR FUEL THAN URANIUM
HAS REACHED A NEW HIGH.
ELISABETH FISCHER FINDS OUT
IF THORIUM IS AS CLEAN AND
SAFE AS SUPPORTERS CLAIM

THE AFTERMATH OF the Fukushima meltdown


is still evident throughout the industry: Europe is
conducting nuclear stress tests, some nations are
shutting down nuclear programmes altogether,
and Japans atomic facilities remain shut. But,
what seems to be a new low for conventional
uranium-fuelled power generation could be a
moment of glory for thorium.
Thorium is said to be both safer and greener
than uranium. It can work in conventional, watercooled reactors and can also be combined with
molten salt or liquid fluoride reactors, offering
even greater efficiency.
Despite the fact thorium could solve some of
the nuclear industrys s current problems, it is
certainly no cure-for-all. More research will have
to go into improving reactor technology and the
fuel cycle to harvest the real benefits of thorium.
India is due to build its first prototype plant,
which could lead to a new era of nuclear power
generation. Following Fukushima, several other
countries are also showing renewed interest in
thorium, boosting a nuclear technology which
has not yet become of age.

THORIUM SHOULD BE
THE PILLAR OF THE US
NUCLEAR FUTURE BECAUSE
IT IS SO FUNDAMENTALLY
DIFFERENT FROM EVERY
OTHER NUCLEAR STORY
OUT THERE RIGHT NOW

INDUSTRY PROJECT

VOGTLE ELECTRIC
GENERATING PLANT
Georgia, US

KEY DATA
PLANT TYPE
Nuclear power plant
LOCATION
Burke County, Georgia, US
OUTPUT
2,450MW (existing units 1 and 2)
2,200MW (new units 3 and 4)
START OF OPERATIONS
Unit 1: 1987
Unit 2: 1989
Unit 3: 2016
Unit 4: 2017

Operated by the Southern Nuclear Operating


Company, the Vogtle nuclear power plant is
spread across 3,200 acres around the Savannah
River in Burke County in the US state of Georgia.
Its first two units, 1 and 2, became operational
in 1987 and 1989 respectively. They have a
combined capacity of 2,450MW, providing
enough electricity to power 600,000 homes.

COST / INVESTMENT
$8.87bn (units 1 and 2)
$14.5bn (units 3 and 4)
OPERATOR
Southern Nuclear Operating
Company

In February 2012, the US Nuclear Regulatory


Commission issued the construction and
operating licenses for units 3 and 4. These two
units will be the first new nuclear power plant
to be approved in the US since the Three Mile
Island plant accident in 1979. The first operating
licenses for units 3 and 4 are scheduled to begin
next year and fuel will be loaded in 2015. Units
3 and 4 are expected to become operational by
2016 and 2017 respectively.
IMAGE COURTESY OF CHARLES C WATSON JR.

IMAGE COURTESY OF FELIX KNIG

IMAGE COURTESY OF NRC

Next Issue:

WEATHERING THE STORM


Efficiency and costs issues are holding back
the further development of wind energy, but
new turbine designs are emerging which
could finally bring wind power into the
mainstream. Next month we explore how
the next generation of wind turbines could
improve the technologys energy-cost ratio.
We also look at the role of wind power in
Denmarks ambitious plan to run the entire
country on renewables by 2050, explore the
physical impact of ever growing wind farms
on the natural world, and investigate

how insufficient grid connections are


leading to large amounts of generated wind
power being wasted in the sectors leading
nations such as China and Germany.

Future Power
Technology
Editorial
Head of Editorial and Production | Duncan West
Editor / Production Manager | Susanne Hauner
Deputy Editors | Laura Husband, Stephanie Phillips
Commissioning Editor | Daniel Garrun

Despite being one of the cheapest sources


of clean power, wind is also one of the most
fickle. We find out how utilities in the US
are experimenting with energy storage to
address the problem, and look at a Alaskan
utilitys ground-breaking plan to install a
battery farm at its wind power plant.

Writers | Mitch Beedie, Sarah Blackman,


Elisabeth Fischer,
Lead Graphic and Flash Designer | John Hammond
Graphic and Flash Designers | Daniel Brian Poole,
Kristina Kiselyte

Sales
Sales Manager | Jasmin Keick

Marketing
Product Coordinator | Lucy Acfield

Future Power Technology is a product of Net


Resources International. Copyright 2012 Net
Resources International, a trading division of SPG
NET RESOURCES Media Limited. Registered office John Carpenter
INTERNATIONAL
House, John Carpenter Street, London,
EC4Y 0AN, UK. Company registration number 01155599.

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