Hollow victories for the global nuclear industry in 2016
Not just Toshiba – the global nuclear industry is in crisis everywhere, Ecologist, Jim Green 3rd February 2017 “…….The number of reactors under construction is slowly dropping. Using WNA figures, 71 reactors were under construction in January 2014 compared to 60 in January 2017. According to WNISR figures, the number is down from 67 to 55 over the same period. Again, that trend seems near-certain to continue because of a sharp drop in reactor construction starts: 50 from 2007-2011 compared to 31 from 2012-2016. Last year, there were just three construction starts.
Hollow, pyrrhic victories
Most of the nuclear industry’s wins in 2016 may turn out to be hollow and pyrrhic.
The decision to go ahead with two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in the UK may be a blessing or a curse for the industry. Other EPR projects face mounting problems – long delays; spectacular cost increases; ongoing inquiries into the integrity of EPR pressure vessels; and in the case of the EPR under construction in Finland, litigation.
EDF faces additional problems as a result of Brexit, the UK’s impending withdrawal from the European Union, which will, significantly, include withdrawal from the Euratom treaty. The post-referendum fall in the value of Sterling will cut its income, while costs will remain roughly level; EDF’s ability to import skilled workers to build the reactors is also in doubt. And the Euratom exit creates a host of additional uncertainties.
And even if construction at Hinkley Point goes to plan and to budget, the obscene subsidies will turn the British public against nuclear power for decades to come. Eight of the UK’s 15 power reactors are scheduled to be shut down over the next decade, and it’s unlikely that new reactors will keep pace with closures.
Toshiba’s problems, meanwhile, are adding significant doubt to the future of the Moorside nuclear project next to the notorious Sellafield site in Cumbria, where the company is meant to be building three Westinghouse AP1000 units.
Last August, Russia announced plans for 11 new reactors but there is no likelihood that all will be built and every likelihood that few if any will be built. Already there is some backsliding from the August 2016 announcement.
In a November 2016 referendum, voters in Switzerland rejected a proposal to impose time limits on the operation of the country’s five power reactors. Nonetheless, pre-Fukushima plans for new reactors have been abandoned. Switzerland is tracking towards a nuclear phase-out by attrition. One of its five reactors is to be closed in 2019, and the others will likely all be closed by the end of the 2020s (or by 2034 according to Nuclear Energy Insider) … much the same outcome as that envisaged in the defeated referendum proposal.
The nuclear industry in Sweden certainly had some wins in 2016, but they may not amount to much. There is no longer an end-date for nuclear energy in Sweden other than a non-binding aspiration to exit the industry by mid-century and a (contradictory) aspiration to be 100% renewable-energy powered by 2040; existing reactors can be replaced with new ones (at the same sites); and a nuclear capacity tax will be abolished.
But there are no plans for new reactors and no likelihood of any in the foreseeable future. Keeping existing reactors operating is proving quite a challenge. One reactor closed in 2015 (leaving Sweden with nine), and three more closures are scheduled by the end of 2020.
‘South Africa formally launches new build programme’, Nuclear Engineering Internationalreported in December 2016. But in fact, plans to build new reactors have been deferred – the latest projection is 1.4 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2037 followed by more later – and plans for new reactors may be scrapped altogether once President Jacob Zuma is ousted.
Corruption has undermined South Africa’s nuclear new-build program and developments in a widespread kick-back and bribery corruption scandal in Brazil’s nuclear program was one of the biggest stories of 2016. Corruption has claimed numerous scalps – not least Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, considered the father of Brazil’s nuclear program, who was sentenced to 43 years in prison in August 2016. The partially-built Angra-3 reactor remains frozen due to the corruption scandal and a lack of funding.
Belgium: 10-year extensions for two of Belgium’s seven reactors were approved in late-2015. But all reactors are still scheduled to closed by the end of 2025. There has been ongoing controversy over the safety of Belgium’s reactors – in particular Doel-3 and Tihange-2 – including strenuous efforts by politicians and the public in neighboring countries to force the closure of the reactors.
USA: The nuclear industry had a couple of wins last year, convincing state legislatures in New York and Illinois to stump up billions to keep ageing reactors operating. However the number of operable reactors has decreased from 104 to 99 in recent years and the pattern of slow decline is certain to continue – 44 out of the 99 reactors have been operating for 40 years or more.
In some other important nuclear countries, there were no victories for the nuclear industry last year, pyrrhic or otherwise … just misery.
France: The French nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever”, former EDF director Gérard Magnin said last November. Just one reactor is under construction – the Flamanville EPR that is many years behind schedule and three times over-budget.
EDF will need to spend around €100 billion (US$107 billion) upgrading its fleet of 58 reactors by 2030, the country’s state audit office has said, to meet new safety requirements and to extend the lives of the units beyond 40 years.
In 2015, concerns about the integrity of some EPR pressure vessels were revealed, prompting investigations that are still ongoing. Last year, the scandal was magnified when the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) announced that at least 400 of the 10,000 quality documents reviewed by Areva contained anomalies, affecting a range of reactor components in many countries.
Both Areva and EDF are financially stressed, to put it mildly – hence a taxpayer-funded bailout agreed last year. A government-led rescue of Areva and the wider nuclear industry may cost the state as much as €10-billion, Reuters reported in January 2017, and in addition to its “dire financial state, Areva is beset by technical, regulatory and legal problems.”
French finance authorities raided the offices of EDF in July 2016 as part of a probe into EDF’s disclosure of information to the market regarding domestic nuclear maintenance costs as well as planned reactors in the UK.
Last year, former Areva chief executive Anne Lauvergeon was placed under formal investigation for the “publication of inaccurate accounts” and the “spreading of false information” in relation to the acquisition of a number of African uranium mines.
Japan: Only two of the country’s 42 ‘operable’ reactors are actually operating. The future of Japan’s nuclear program remains a guessing game, but projections are being steadily reduced. According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency and the IAEA, installed capacity of 42.4 GW in 2014 could fall to as little as 7.6 GW by 2035 “as reactors are permanently shut down owing to a range of factors including location near active faults, technology, age and local political resistance.”
Another reactor was permanently shut down in 2016 (Ikata-1) in addition to five shut-downs in 2015 and the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors shut down in the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster. Japan also decided last year to permanently shut down the troubled Monju fast breeder reactor. For all the rhetoric about Generation IV fast reactors, and the US$100+ billion invested worldwide, only five such reactors are operating worldwide (three of them experimental) and only one is under construction (in India).
Late last year, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry revised the estimated cost of decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and compensating victims of the disaster, to around US$187 bnillion (€175 bn). The latest estimate is four times greater than estimates provided in 2011/12. Indirect costs (e.g. fuel imports, adverse impacts on agriculture and fishing, etc.) are likely to exceed the direct clean-up and compensation costs.
India has 22 operable reactors (6.2 GW capacity) and five under construction. In early 2015, India claimed to have resolved one of the major obstacles to foreign investment by announcing measures to circumvent a liability law which does not completely absolve suppliers of responsibility for accidents. But that hasn’t led to any construction starts; indeed the last construction start was in 2011.
Newcomer countries: The WNA claims that “over 45 countries are actively considering embarking upon nuclear power programmes.” Codswallop. Only two newcomer countries are actually building reactors – Belarus and the United Arab Emirates. Numerous potential newcomers have deferred or abandoned nuclear plans over the past two years, including Chile, Indonesia, Vietnam and Lithuania (which operated reactors until 2009).
Newcomers will be few and far between. Moreover, some countries – including Germany, Belgium, and Taiwan – are deliberately phasing out nuclear power, while nuclear power faces attritional phase-outs in some other countries (e.g. Switzerland).
The July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report noted that over the past two decades, only two countries started power reactors for the first time (Romania in 1996 and Iran in 2011) while two countries closed theirs (Kazakhstan and Lithuania).
China: With 35 operable power reactors (up from 30 at the start of 2016), 22 under construction, and many more in the pipeline, China remains the only country with significant nuclear expansion plans. There are indications of a slow-down with only two construction starts in 2016. There were 25 construction starts from 2008-2010 and 15 in the six years since……….. http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988607/not_just_toshiba_the_global_nuclear_industry_is_in_crisis_everywhere.html
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