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How the UK’s new nuclear deal with Hitachi just can’t really work

Another shotgun wedding for the UK nuclear lobby daryanenergyblog  November 3, 2012 “…….There is a proposal in Japan for a referendum on Nuclear energy with three options on the table . Option one is 30% of Japanese electricity from nuclear (essentially business as usual but with a cap on future nuclear growth). Option two is 15% (many older reactors near fault lines closed, some new reactors later but only as a replacement for plants taken out of service and not on a like for like basis) and option three is 0% (a phase out of nuclear energy completely, which as I’ve previously shown is feasible). The Japanese government seems to favour the middle option but opinion polls suggest that it might be the zero nuclear option. Either of these last two would mean a massive cut in nuclear reactor orders in Japan, if not a complete halt.

So naturally Hitachi are having to hedge their bets and look overseas for buyers of their wares. This would explain the choice of reactors. While previously the Horizon deal had focused on French or American designed PWR‘s (Pressurised Water Reactor), Hitachi seem to be keen on BWR‘s (Boiling Water Reactor), notably their own brand ABWR reactoror the as of yet untested ESBWR. However, these reactors have never been certified for use in the UK. It will take a few years to get that paper work cleared and redesign the reactors as required. There have also been some technical problems with the ABWR‘swhich has led to them providing a much lower level than expected level of reliability and on-grid availability (as this table from the IAEA illustrates).

Also, the UK engineering firms will need time to plan for this change in reactor. While thebulk of reactor cores world wide might well come from the Japanese Steel Works (JSW) on Hokkaido Island, the majority of any UK based ABWR (the steam turbines, heat exchangers and auxiliary equipment) will be build by other contractors many here in the UK, notably companies such as Forgemasters and Rolls Royce. They need to be given time to retool and book spots on the production line before any plant can be built. Also there is a waiting list in JSW and by switching reactor types the UK may have just lost its place in the queue.

A Looming Energy Gap

This will explain why Hitachi are talking about a delivery date of the first new plant in the mid to early 2020′s. However, by this date the UK nuclear fleet will be down to between 1 and 3 reactors (Torness and Heysham retire in 2023, further Torness is in Scotland which may not be part of the UK by that date!) and a capacity of between 1,200 – 3,700 MW, from a present capacity of 10,500 MW and a former peak of 14,000 MW. While Hitachi seem to be proposing 6 reactors, it will take at least a decade or two (or three!) to bring this capacity online and even 6 ABWR’s would still fall well short of the historical maximum installed capacity (about 40% short in fact)……


November 5, 2012 - Posted by | business and costs, politics, UK

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