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Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) if they work, will arrive too late to make a difference to global heating

Is nuclear power the answer?, DECEMBER 8, 2020 JOHN QUIGGIN

The last (I hope) extract from the climate change chapter of Economic Consequences of the Pandemic. I’m in two minds about whether this is really needed. The group of pro-nuclear environmentalists seems to be shrinking towards a hard core who can’t be convinced (and some of them, like Shellenberger turn out to have been concern trolls all along). But every now and then I run across people who seem open-minded enough, but haven’t caught up with the bad news on nuclear.

Debates about decarbonizing electricity generation inevitably raise the issue of nuclear power. Since nuclear power generates no carbon dioxide emissions (except in the construction phase) it is a potential solution to climate change, with a strong body of advocates.

Some of this advocacy may be dismissed as point-scoring. Rightwing pundits who oppose any action on climate change simultaneously promote nuclear power as carbon free, with the aim of embarrassing environmentalist. There is, however, a small but vocal group of nuclear power advocates who are convinced that a massive expansion of nuclear power is the only way to replace coal-fired power………

Today the choice is not between new nuclear and new or existing coal. It is whether to allocate investment to building nuclear plants or to accelerating the shift to solar and wind energy.

The key problem is not safety but economics. New plants are safer and more sophisticated than those that failed in the past, but they are also massively more expensive to build, and quite costly to operate. The capital costs of recent projects in the US, France and Finland (none yet complete) have been around $10/kw, compared to $1/kw or less for solar. And, whereas solar PV is essentially costless to operate, the operating costs of nuclear power plants are around 2c/kwH. Even when solar PV is backed up with battery storage, it is cheaper to build and to operate, than new nuclear.

The facts speak for themselves. Over the last decade, only two or three reactors have commenced construction each year, not even enough to replace plants being retired. This isn’t the result of pressure from environmentalists or alarm about the safety of nuclear plants. The slowdown is evident in countries like China, where public opinion has little influence on policy decisions, and in countries where public opinion is generally favorable to new nuclear power. China failed to reach its 2020 target of 58 GW of installed power, and currently has only about 15 GW of nuclear power under construction. That compares to 55 GW of new solar and wind capacity installed in 2019 alone.

It is clear by now that large-scale nuclear reactors have no future. The last hope for nuclear power rests on Small Modular Reactors. The idea is that, rather than building a single large reactor, typically with a capacity of 1 GW, smaller reactors will be produced in factories, then shipped to the site in the required number. The leading proponent of this idea is Nuscale Power, which currently has a contract with UAMPS to supply a pilot plant with a dozen 60MW modules.

It remains to be seen whether SMR’s will work at all. Even if they do, it is not clear that the reduced costs associated with off-site manufacturing will offset the loss of the scale economies associated with a large boiler, let alone yield power at a cost competitive with that of solar PV.

In any case, the issue is largely irrelevant as far as the climate emergency is concerned. NuScale’s pilot plant, with a total capacity of 720 MW, is currently scheduled to start operation in 2029. Large-scale deployment will take at least a decade more .

If we are to have any chance of stabilising the climate, coal-fired power must be eliminated by 2030, and electricity generation must be decarbonized more or less completely by 2035. SMRs, if they work, will arrive too late to make a difference. ….https://johnquiggin.com/2020/12/08/is-nuclear-power-the-answer/#more-17451

December 8, 2020 Posted by | climate change, Women | Leave a comment

Canada’s Coalition for Responsible Energy Development sceptical about Small Nuclear Reactors

Questions abound about New Brunswick’s embrace of small nuclear reactors
Critics question business case, but CEO says the market is ‘screaming’ for the units,
 Jacques Poitras · CBC News Dec 07, 2020

When Mike Holland talks about small modular nuclear reactors, he sees dollar signs.

When the Green Party hears about them, they see danger signs.

The loquacious Progressive Conservative minister of energy development recently quoted NB Power’s eye-popping estimates of the potential economic impact of the reactors: thousands of jobs and a $1 billion boost to the provincial economy.

“New Brunswick is positioned to not only participate in this opportunity, but to be a world leader in the SMR field,” Holland said in the legislature last month.

Green MLAs David Coon and Kevin Arseneau responded cheekily by ticking off the Financial and Consumer Services Commission’s checklist on how to spot a scam.

Is the sales pitch from a credible source? Is the windfall being promised by a reputable institution? Is the risk reasonable?

For small nuclear reactors, they said, the answer to all those questions is no. 

“The last thing we need to do is pour more public money down the nuclear-power drain,” Coon said, reminding MLAs of the Point Lepreau refurbishment project that went $1 billion over budget. …….

Premier Blaine Higgs is a fervent supporter, but in the last provincial election the Liberals promised they’d do even more than Higgs to promote them.

Under Brian Gallant, the Liberals handed $10 million to two Saint John companies working on SMRs, ARC Nuclear and Moltex Energy.

Greens point to previous fiascoes

The Greens and other opponents of nuclear power fear SMRS are the latest in a long line of silver-bullet fiascoes, from the $23 million spent on the Bricklin in 1975 to $63.4 million in loans and loan guarantees to the Atcon Group a decade ago.

“It seems that [ARC and Moltex] have been targeting New Brunswick for another big handout … because it’s going to take billions of dollars to build these things, if they ever get off the drawing board,” said Susan O’Donnell, a University of New Brunswick researcher.

O’Donnell, who studies technology adoption in communities, is part of a small new group called the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development formed this year to oppose SMRs.

“What we really need here is a reasonable discussion about the pros and cons of it,” she said……..

What we didn’t see was a market analysis,” O’Donnell said. “How viable is the market? … They’re all based on a hypothetical market that probably doesn’t exist.”

O’Donnell said her group asked for the full report but was told it’s confidential because it contains sensitive commercial information………..

The market is screaming for this product,”  Rory O’Sullivan, CEO of Moltex said, adding “all of the utilities” in Canada are interested in Moltex’s reactors ……

ARC’s CEO Norm Sawyer is more specific, guessing 30 per cent of his SMR sales will be in Atlantic Canada, 30 per cent in Ontario and 40 per cent in Alberta and Saskatchewan — all provincial power grids.

O’Donnell said it’s an important question because without a large number of guaranteed sales, the high cost of manufacturing SMRs would make the initiative a money-loser.

The cost of building the world’s only functioning SMR, in Russia, was four times what was expected.

An Australian government agency said initial cost estimates for such major projects “are often initially too low” and can “overrun.”

Up-front costs can be huge

University of British Columbia physicist M.V. Ramana, who has authored studies on the economics of nuclear power, said SMRs face the same financial reality as any large-scale manufacturing.

“You’re going to spend a huge amount of money on the basic fixed costs” at the outset, he said, with costs per unit becoming more viable only after more units are built and sold.

He estimates a company would have to build and sell more than 700 SMRs to break even, and said there are not enough buyers for that to happen. ….

O’Sullivan says:    “In fact, just the first one alone looks like it will still be economical,” he said. “In reality, you probably need a few … but you’re talking about one or two, maximum three [to make a profit] because you don’t need these big factories.”

‘Paper designs’ prove nothing, says expert

Ramana doesn’t buy it.

“These are all companies that have been started by somebody who’s been in the nuclear industry for some years, has a bright idea, finds an angel investor who’s given them a few million dollars,” he said.

“They have a paper design, or a Power Point design. They have not built anything. They have not tested anything. To go from that point … to a design that can actually be constructed on the field is an enormous amount of work.

Both CEOs acknowledge the skepticism about SMRs.

“I understand New Brunswick has had its share of good investments and its share of what we consider questionable investments,” said ARC’s CEO Norm Sawyer….

But he said ARC’s SMR is based on a long-proven technology and is far past the on-paper design stage “so you reduce the risk.”

Moltex is now completing the first phase of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s review of its design, a major hurdle. ARC completed that phase last year.

But, Ramana said there are problems with both designs. Moltex’s molten salt model has had “huge technical challenges” elsewhere while ARC’s sodium-cooled system has encountered “operational difficulties.” …..

federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan told CBC earlier this year that he’s “very excited” about SMRs…..

O’Donnell said while nuclear power doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, it’s hardly a clean technology because of the spent nuclear fuel waste.

Government support is key

She also wonders why, if SMRs make so much sense, ARC and Moltex are relying so much on government money rather than private capital.

…….. So far, Ottawa hasn’t put up any funding for ARC or Moltex. During the provincial election campaign, Higgs implied federal money was imminent, but there’s been no announcement in the almost three months since then.

Last month the federal government announced $20 million for Terrestrial Energy, an Ontario company working on SMRs.

…….O’Donnell said her group plans to continue asking questions about SMRs.

“I think what we really need is to have an honest conversation about what these are so that New Brunswickers can have all the facts on the table,” she said.  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/questions-small-nuclear-reactors-1.5828784

 

December 8, 2020 Posted by | Canada, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | 1 Comment

Nuclear powered electric vehicles? not existing, and not likely

December 8, 2020 Posted by | spinbuster, technology, USA | Leave a comment

Microwave Radiation ‘Most Plausible’ Cause Of Diplomats’ Ailments

Microwave Radiation ‘Most Plausible’ Cause Of Diplomats’ Ailments, Report Says, NPR

December 8, 2020 Posted by | ASIA, radiation | 2 Comments

Russian Ambassador to U.S. Sees Hope for Nuclear Arms Treaty Extension

Russian Ambassador to U.S. Sees Hope for Nuclear Arms Treaty Extension, USNI News , By: John Grady, December 7, 2020  The Russian ambassador to the United States said there is still time to extend the Strategic Arms Control Treaty, due to expire in early February, even despite the upcoming presidential transition.Anatoly Antonov, whose diplomatic career largely has been spent focused on major arms control issues, said the START treaty is a “key issue” for Russia. “We have time; we can get it done very quickly.” Speaking at a Brookings Institution online forum last week, he added, “we are in close contact with Marshall Billingslea,” the Trump administration’s top envoy on arms control.

He said several times during the forum that the Kremlin has been pushing the White House on an extension of its terms but has not received a formal answer.

The whole world depends on the United States-Russia relationship.”

On START, he added, “we need time to work out new security agreements” that cover a range of issues from missile defense, intermediate-range missiles, hypersonics and potential space weapons. For this reason, Russia has offered to extend the treaty’s term for up to five years “without pre-conditions.”

The United States wants China to be part of any new START negotiations, but Antonov said Beijing is “not happy with such an invitation.” The ambassador said Moscow wants the United Kingdom and France, both nuclear powers and NATO members, to be involved if the talks are broadened……. https://news.usni.org/2020/12/07/russian-ambassador-to-u-s-sees-hope-for-nuclear-arms-treaty-extension

December 8, 2020 Posted by | politics international, Russia, weapons and war | 1 Comment

For the first time ever, a Japanese court rules against a government approval on nuclear safety

Japan court nixes approval of post-Fukushima nuclear safety steps,  KYODO NEWS – Dec 4, 2020 , 

A Japanese court on Friday, for the first time, revoked the government’s approval of operating a nuclear plant under new safety regulations developed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Osaka District Court ruled in favor of about 130 plaintiffs who claimed that the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture are vulnerable to a major earthquake.

A Japanese court on Friday, for the first time, revoked the government’s approval of operating a nuclear plant under new safety regulations developed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Osaka District Court ruled in favor of about 130 plaintiffs who claimed that the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture are vulnerable to a major earthquake.

In the ruling, Presiding Judge Hajime Morikagi said the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety screening “has errors and flaws that should not be overlooked” as its estimates needed to factor in a potentially much larger earthquake around the plant…..

It is the first time a Japanese court has withdrawn government approval granted to a power company to operate a nuclear plant under the safety standards set in 2013 following the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant triggered by a major earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

While the two reactors in Oi in the central Japan prefecture have been idle due to regular inspections since earlier this year, the ruling will not take effect if the NRA appeals the decision.

But the ruling may have an impact on the operations of not only the nuclear plant on the Sea of Japan coast but also other reactors in the country that went back online under the new rules…….

The utility, meanwhile, has decided to decommission the aging Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at the Oi plant. https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/12/8c717cf8568d-urgent-japan-court-nullifies-approval-of-oi-nuclear-reactor-safety-steps.html

December 8, 2020 Posted by | Japan, legal | Leave a comment

France and European Union have not yet agreed on nuclear reform

France yet to agree with EU over nuclear reform: official,  By Gwénaëlle Barzic-PARIS (Reuters) 7 Dec 20, – France and the European Union are yet to reach a firm agreement over Paris’s plans for a reform of its nuclear industry, an Elysee presidential palace official said on Monday, amid talks that will entail a reorganisation of power group EDF.

The talks between France and the European Commission include the ARENH price mechanism under which competitors can get access to nuclear energy produced by EDF. Because EDF is a state-owned utility, the EU has a say on its reform on competition grounds.

The looming reform, which would see EDF’s nuclear business separated from others such as renewable energy, has already raised hackles among labour unions, fearful that a split will have consequences for jobs.

Speculation had mounted in recent weeks that a deal with the EU was nearing, and that Paris was ready to start putting some elements of the reform through parliament.

“There is not yet an agreement with the Commission on some of the key parametres,” an official with the Elysee presidential palace said, speaking ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to a nuclear equipment factory run by a EDF subsidiary Framatome on Tuesday.

The official said it was too soon to say when the new legislation on the nuclear sector could emerge.

“Talks (with Brussels) are advancing and are constructive,” the official added……

France is due to cut its reliance on nuclear energy from 75% to 50% by 2035, but must also decide by 2023 whether to commission next generation EPR reactors.

The government will be seeking more information from EDF by the middle of next year about the cost, timeframe and feasibility of new projects, the Elysee official said.

Reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic; Writing by GV De Clercq and Sarah White; Editing by Toby Chopra and Mark Potter   https://in.reuters.com/article/edf-restructuring/france-yet-to-agree-with-eu-over-nuclear-reform-official-idINKBN28H1RQ

December 8, 2020 Posted by | France, politics | Leave a comment

Concerns about Holtec taking ownership of Palisades nuclear plant – public meeting this week

Public meeting about ownership change for Palisades nuclear plant comes this week, By STEVE CARMODY  DEC 6, 2020

This week, federal regulators will hold a public meeting to discuss plans to transfer the operating license for the Palisades nuclear power plant.   

Entergy Corp. agreed to sell the aging nuclear plant in southwest Michigan to Holtec Intl. in 2018.  ………

If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves the license transfer, the Camden, New Jersey based company will oversee the decommissioning of Palisades starting in 2022.

“The problem with Holtec is they’re going to try to do as little clean up as they can get away with,” says Kevin Kamps with Beyond Nuclear, a nuclear waste watchdog, “They’re going to take as many short cuts on high level waste management as they can get away with…and then pocket all the remaining money.”

Kamp wants to see state and local officials play a greater role in decommissioning plans and potential future uses for the site on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Legislation to create a “Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel” has stalled in a state House committee. …..https://www.michiganradio.org/post/public-meeting-about-ownership-change-palisades-nuclear-plant-comes-week

December 8, 2020 Posted by | general | Leave a comment

How a US defense secretary came to support the abolition of nuclear weapons

December 8, 2020 Posted by | PERSONAL STORIES, Reference, weapons and war | Leave a comment