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Coming Soon: Double Dutch Reactors?

Who knew 2nd place could be so sweet?

It seems a major rethink is underway over nuclear energy in Europe. Sweden, Poland, Italy and Germany have all either reversed their moratoriums/phase-outs or put forward serious proposals to add nuclear generating capacity. Now, it looks like the Netherlands may be about to join the club.

The Netherlands has just one reactor—and at 485 megawatts—it generates only about four percent of the country’s electricity.

But a new proposal by a holding company representing “six Dutch provinces and various city councils” may be about to change that.

The submission will detail plans to construct a nuclear power plant with a maximum capacity of 2,500 megawatts, almost five times the capacity of Borssele 1. ERH hopes to obtain all necessary permits by 2014 and start up the plant in 2019.

This new plant could be “one or two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, an EPR or a BWR” according to the World Nuclear Association.

Perhaps, like much of the rest of Europe, the Dutch are thinking low-carbon, but they’re also thinking energy security. And let’s face it, nuclear is definitely lower carbon and almost always more secure than natural gas (unless you’re sitting on top of huge reserves of easily accessible gas). The Dutch rethink is an instructive case for those now entranced by the recent low prices of natural gas. As a recent report by the IEA on the Netherlands’ energy sector shows, even fossil fuels don’t last forever.

Power generation is dominated by natural gas, which has an almost 60% share in 2007. Natural gas has fuelled more than half of the Netherlands’ electricity generation since the early 1980s – down from nearly three-quarters in the 1970s.

That’s where we’re at now, but there are concerns in the Dutch government that as the natural gas runs out they may have to switch to a higher carbon fuel: coal.

According to government projections based on the so-called “global economy scenario,” the share of coal-fired generation is expected to increase substantially between 2007 and 2030, rising from just over a quarter to over half of all generation. Over the same period, natural gas will fall to less than 30% of generation.

Think what that would do to Dutch emissions targets.

So, it’s not surprising that as another day passes, another European country is reconsidering nuclear. It’s also not surprising to learn that—despite hand wringing in some European countries—the European Union gets about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy compared to 20 percent in the U.S.

Oh, and one final note: electricity supply—as opposed to generation—was closer to nine percent of the Netherlands’ electricity in 2007.

The nuclear reactor at Borssele in Zeeland continues to provide a small amount of power – 4% in 2007 – as it has since 1973. (In addition, approximately 5% of Dutch electricity supply is provided by imported nuclear power, which is not included in domestic statistics reported here.)

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