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Nuclear cost and water consumption – The elephants in the control room

Nuclear cost and water consumption – The elephants in the control room, Open Peter Farley | December 20, 2019 
Cost  There are four nuclear plants being built around the world where public information on costs is reasonably reliable.

These are Plant Vogtle in the US (US$27.5bn, 2.2GW), Framanville France (12.4bn+, 1.6 GW), Olkiluoto in Finland (around €10 bn+, 1.6 GW) and Hinckley Point in the UK (₤22 bn+, 3.2 GW).

There are two further plants whose power costs have been published, Akkuyu in Turkey US$127/MWh and Barakah in the Emirates US$110/MWh.

It should be emphasised that none of these costs are the full cost recovery. For example in the British case it is estimated that some $10 bn has been spent by others on upgrading the grid and backup power supplies. In Turkey the cost of the plant is just that, and doesn’t include civil works, grid connections, cooling water supply.

In the US plant Vogtle has benefited from some US$8bn of federal government loan guarantees and an unusual form of financing where customers have paid about 8% premium on their bills for 10-12 years before the plant is to be commissioned.

All of the plants get catastrophe insurance and some security from their government and most have inadequate bond structures for long term waste storage. They also rarely pay for cooling water. Many have preferential supply agreements which will require other cheaper sources of power to turn off to allow the nuclear plants to keep running.

However, even on the published information, nuclear power plants in democracies are running at about A$13m/MW………

 “…..Cooling Water

A key issue with nuclear plants is cooling. Because of the cost of shutdowns and the degradation of materials by irradiation, the plants are designed to run at lower peak temperatures (260-320 C) than coal (500-670 C), gas turbines (1,300-1430C) or internal combustion plants (2,000 C).

The thermal efficiency of a plant is directly related to the difference between the peak temperature and the cooling medium – what is termed Carnot efficiency.

Lower temperature means lower efficiency, as less of the heat energy is converted into work and more is removed by the cooling system. So for a given amount of electrical energy delivered, more cooling is required in a nuclear plant. Furthermore the warmer the cooling water or air the more coolant is required.

Thus the Barrakah plants require 100 tonnes of Gulf seawater per second for each generator. In higher latitudes with seawater temperatures in the range of 2-12C, water requirements can still be 40-60 tonnes per second per GW…….

It is enough to change the local environment for all sea life, so finding a suitabable site is very difficult. There are currently no nuclear plants operating using warm seawater for cooling although Barrakah is soon to be commissioned.

The problem there is not just the temperature but the accelerated rates of corrosion and biofouling which will mean the heat exchangers need to be larger, pumping losses will be higher and maintenance bills higher still…..

On land in very cold climates, a small number of air cooled plants have been built but the offset is that about 5% of the output of the power plant is used to run the fans. However in warm climates it is virtually impossible to run an air cooled nuclear power plant……

A closer look at Barrakah

There are a range of risks with all nuclear designs, but the business risks assoctiated with the Barrakah style APR 1400 seem even larger than most.

The Barrakah plants were supposed to progressively come on line in early 2017 but they have yet to generate powerThis delay is adding US$1.2-2 bn per year to the eventual liabilities that have to be paid off.

They are designed for an 18 month refueling cycle – unlike the AP1000 at plant Vogtle which has a 3 year refueling cycle. This means lower lifetime capacity factors and higher backup requirements with gas or pumped hydro. The design goal is 90% availability.

They have largely been built with very low finance costs from both Korea and the Emirates together with cheap expat Indian and Pakistani labour which significantly understates their real cost of construction.

The Barrakah plant is a 4 unit plant, which allows useful economies of scale, and there is nowhere in Australia where a 4 unit plant can safely be intergrated into the grid.

Recent problems with the single unit 750MW Kogan Creek generator in Queensland have shown that the grid can be destabilised with the failure of a single unit.  As demand is gradually falling, a single unit of that magnitude is even harder to manage. The APR 1400 units are 1,350-1,400 MW so would be even more difficult to integrate into the grid.

These reactors have not yet been shown to work in a hot environment so their reliability is unknown, in fact there is only one other reactor of this type operating in the world with two more under construction.

The Moorside project in the UK which was to use KEPCO designs has been abandoned and plans for two more units in Korea have been frozen. KEPCO was offered all the development work already done on the Oldbury and Wyfla plants in the UK and did not take them up.

These plants came with billions of pounds worth of development work already done, project teams and permits in place and an offer from the UK government of a guaranteed ₤75/MWh + inflation for 25+ years.

There is a reasonably held belief that the price was artificially supported by the previous Korean government which viewed nuclear technology as a new export industry and this project as a flagship demonstrator. In contrast the current Korean government was elected on an anti-nuclear program and has pledged to build no more plants after the current two units under construction are completed.

There are some doubts about the level of safety in the design and a new design, APR1400+ was developed to reduce the possibility of a melt down. However no plants of this design have been ordered. So which one would you choose?


December 28, 2019 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs, environment

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