Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who’s Afraid of Nuclear Energy?

Khartoum The Patriot-Journal in Pennsylvania sees a solution:

We talk and hear a lot about solar and wind power — in fact there are many government-backed programs providing grants and tax incentives for homeowners and companies willing to use these forms of energy production. But another part of our energy equation that is just as important but discussed far less is nuclear power.

The only way the United States will ever become less dependent on other countries for our energy is to increase our commitment to nuclear energy.

True. And it sees some of the problems with making this happen.

Our government has yet to deal with the important issue of disposing of the nuclear waste. Incredibly the federal government has not disposed of any civilian nuclear waste and has no plan for doing so. Estimates show the government is more than 10 years behind schedule in its contractual obligations for waste disposal.

And then it offers some advice:

When he talks about green energy, President Obama must throw ample support behind nuclear power. This means doing more than giving lip service to its importance in the future. It is a key component to the United States becoming more energy independent and more environmentally sound.

Nuclear Notes has spotlighted a lot of editorials, and this one’s pretty good – it lays out the issues clearly and realistically – but it doesn’t seem all that special.

Except that the Patriot-Journal publishes out of Harrisburg and includes in its coverage area the Three Mile Island plant and all its neighbors. That sound you hear is the last domino falling. To pilfer from Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Nuclear Energy?

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And now, Sudan:

Sudan plans to build a four- reactor nuclear power plant to fill a gap in the energy needs of Africa's largest country by 2030 costing between $3-6 billion, the head of Sudan's atomic energy agency said on Tuesday.

Why nuclear energy?

"We did energy planning for forecasting supply and demand and we found that hydro alone is not sufficient to meet the demand alone of the electricity of the country so we are thinking of mixed generation of power -- hydro, fossil fuels and maybe nuclear if things go as planned," he said.

Speaking in this article is nuclear chief Mohamed Ahmed Hassan el-Tayeb.

There are several reasons to doubt that Sudan can do this.

Sudan is not a notably electrified country, so it’s intriguing to know whether the country plans to go for full electrification – it’s the 10th largest country in the world and has a widely dispersed population. (But see this chart from the World Bank, especially from 2000 on, that shows electricity use growing.)

Answer: yes, it does want to electrify:

"Now around 20 percent of the country has electricity -- we need to reach 80 percent by 2020," el-Tayeb said, adding they would also be developing dams for hydro-electric power, fossil fuels and alternative energies including bio fuels such as ethanol, solar power and wind power in the east of Sudan.

That’s a very ambitious goal for a country that has existed from antiquity to now without much electricity – well, the brief period in its history when there has been generated electricity. Sudan appears to require considerable help from the international community to move this goal forward. We found some information on this effort from USAID:

On Tuesday, May 27 [2008], the Government of the United States and the Government of Southern Sudan will join members of the Yei community to celebrate completion of the first community-built and -operated power generation and electricity distribution system in Southern Sudan.

The pilot project is part of USAID’s Southern Sudan Rural Electrification Program, implemented by the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association (NRECA) International since 2004. With funding from USAID, NRECA has trained Yei residents in the wide spectrum of skills needed to build and operate a small utility.

That gives you a notion of how close to zero the starting point is. Let’s try for zero, though, with this report from a USAID partner The Louis Berger Group, an engineering and construction firm that specializes in economic development:

As USAID’s implementing partner, we work in collaboration with the Government of Southern Sudan to provide support for a full range of physical and institutional needs, capacity building, developmental assistance, institutional strengthening, and sustainable infrastructure development in the transport, urban water and sanitation, public buildings, and energy and natural resources sectors.

Good work, of course, but also the signs of a modern society being built from the ground up. These are worthy goals – assuming this is what the southern Sudanese want – but they are also immensely challenging. (Also, southern Sudan – the Yei - may be breaking off from Sudan after a referendum on the issue in 2011.)

Beyond the issue of modernization is Sudan’s government, not very modernized itself - an authoritarian regime with a ghastly human rights record. Several of its officials have been charged with war crimes due to genocidal activity in the Darfur region of the country.

Finding a partner to build nuclear energy plants beyond a research reactor will be very difficult. The U.S., for example, has had sanctions in place since 1997.

So, nuclear energy? Well, anyone can make an announcement. Sudan seems a poor candidate to be able to bring off such a large project.

Khartoum at night. I suspect that flood of electric light doesn’t extend much outside Khartoum.

1 comment:

Bill Rodgers said...

Good assessment that Sudan is probably a poor place right now to go nuclear considering the status of their national infrastructure and their government issues.

However, considering the international political issues would the Russians step in and fund a reactor? Could this be the reason Sudan is considering nuclear?

Also how much fossil fuel will Sudan have to buy on the open market if they go natural gas turbines or diesel generators? They are cash strapped as it is so nuclear may seem appealing to them from that standpoint?

Alternately, is Sudan a place where a SMR company could showcase their technology? A high risk proposition considering the long standing government turmoil. But a self contained SMR system would be a good fit from a power output standpoint as Sudan builds a grid.