Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kicking the Tires in Bulgaria

nuclear power plants kozloduy This did not look too promising:

Nuclear energy is not just the darling of rogue countries anymore. As The Washington Post reports, it is making a comeback – and soon smaller reactors may be sitting at the end of small town Main Street. Living near a nuclear plant is certainly dangerous, as a meltdown is inarguably a catastrophic event.

Yes, so many rogue countries building plants that melt down on a weekly basis. One doesn’t know where to begin to shudder. But it does get better:

Other eco activists have advocated nuclear energy, while Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has invested millions in nuclear energy research.

And that gets to the heart of it, the possibility of small nuclear reactors – those with a capacity of 350 megawatts and below – making up some of the energy landscape. Enthusiasm has been growing for these plants for awhile, with legislation in Congress to encourage their development. They’re less expensive than full scale reactors, they may fit comfortably into less energy intensive areas and most of the proposed reactors can grow as the need for electricity grows – just add another reactor.

Gates’ imprimatur has impressed writer Katherine Butler quite a lot, though the following is, again, an impressive lump of bad facts:

Gate’s venture, TerraPower, is working to eliminate some of the problems with current nuclear reactors – such as using the fuel to build weapons. TerraPower is working on a “traveling wave reactor” that would be powered by depleted uranium. Also, more the smaller plants would be buried and less of a “bull’s eye” for terrorists.

Because, as we know, terrorists have been crawling out of the woodwork. We found this article interesting because it shows a fairly strong push-pull between wanting to deride nuclear energy – this is at Mother Earth News - and grudgingly allowing that there might be something here to consider. I didn’t think small reactors would spur such examination – the Gates factor does seem helpful – but there you are.

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NEI’s bi-monthly newsletter has an article up on the wave reactor – that’s the one Bill Gates has money on – and you can read all about it here. Here’s a snippet of how the wave reactor works:

The reactor would operate somewhat like a slow-burning cigar, with the “wave” creating and burning its own plutonium fuel as it goes. According to the literature, one load of fuel could operate the reactor for “well over 50 to 100 years without refueling.”

Which, if they make it work and scale it up to commercial size – even if as a small reactor – is very impressive. Read the whole article if you haven’t already.

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To be honest, there are some stories that evade a full understanding:

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov and the Governor of the Chinese province of Guangdong Wang Yang discussed opportunities for Chinese investment in Bulgarian nuclear energy.

Well, what I mean is that there would appear to be more here than can be extracted from the story. For example, it may not be exactly on point to tout the business environment in Bulgaria:

President Parvanov pointed out that Bulgaria offers excellent conditions for business development, some of the best tax laws in the EU, and qualified workers, and expressed the hope that the Chinese delegation would have many beneficial meetings in Sofia.

Or that this has been proved by, well, car manufacturing:

Bulgaria's Litex Motors in Lovech will start producing cars in 2011 after signing a deal with Great Wall Motor Company, one of China's biggest automotive manufacturers. The total initial investment is around EUR 80 M, potentially reaching EUR 300 M if the project is successful.

We may want to drop into out Litex dealership to see what’s new, but one thing is not like another. I’m guessing that Bulgarian might be tough to translate. But still, good luck on the plant. We’ll check back on this one.

The Soviet-built plant at Kozloduy, Bulgaria. Closing these plants has been a condition on several Eastern European countries if they want to join the European Union. Let’s be neutral on that – love the symbol, though – and see if Bulgaria can entice China – or France – or the U.S. – into helping it build another.

2 comments:

Joffan said...

Interesting to see that the WaPo article has a poll on how people would view a nuclear reactors in their town: it was running at 79% "pro" from 598 votes when I visited.

Yordan Georgiev said...

As a native Bulgarian having observed my country's economic development from abroad the last 15 years I could state the following:
- Bulgaria IS currently the tiger economy on the Balkans - it has the best financial stability both in the private and the government sector
- Bulgarians learned the hard-way that creating profitable business environment is the only way to improve the standards of living
- Bulgaria does have very competitive taxation
- Bulgaria is very positive on nuclear and kind of angry to EU , since all the inspections from the WNA and EU proved that the security of the closed reactors was above the international level required ( they invested hundreds of millions but the reactors had to be shut down ) and the decision WAS political
- There are your players on the energy markets in Bulgaria, which are very aggressive in building new markets and gaining more capital ( I even happen to know some of those guys )
- Those young player have access to big money
- Bulgaria wants to be an energy factor on the Balkans and has provided in the past orders of magnitude of electricity to its neighbors
So , my conclusion is:
Small nuclear manufacturers : Go and get some contacts in there - The Chinese and Indians are already there ...

Check the biggest investments in the country - Mobiltel , Eon , Entergy ...