Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Whither British Nuclear Energy?

Martin Freer is a professor of nuclear physics at the U.K.’s Birmingham University. He lets us know that he wants his country to stop dithering when it comes to nuclear energy:

There are very strong arguments for making nuclear power a crucial component of Britain's overall programme of low-carbon energy generation. Indeed, there is a compelling case for the country to be rebuilt as a nuclear nation if it is to tackle the threat of global warming and other colossal concerns. Although a number of hurdles must be overcome if this is to happen.

And perhaps some of the problems are a least somewhat systemic.

Now the R&D workforce stands at fewer than 600, while funding has fallen to less than 10 per cent of the historical level. Similarly, we are far from having an appropriate workforce in place in the event of a build programme getting under way. At this point in time there is a very real worry that the scale of training achievable will not match demand.

It’s a striking difference from the American experience. There has been much discussion of rebuilding the nuclear work force in the face of coming retirements. Both industry and government here are putting some muscle (and money) behind nuclear related degree work. If Freer is right in his 10 percent figure, that argues for industry to step up, at least to some degree.

In the United States, industry offers scholarships to students and partners with colleges to offer relevant programs. Some of these are two-year degrees for well-trained nuclear “factory” workers – nuclear facilities being essentially factories for producing electricity – and four-year degrees in the nuclear sciences. You can read more about this here.

But it sounds as though the British industry is just coming to terms with these issues.

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Freer offers no particular solution to the issues he sees holding back the U.K. nuclear industry. There have been stories circulating that interest in building new facilities has flagged somewhat – cost and the accident at Fukushima Daiichi being contributing factors – but there is a need to refresh the country’s fleet, the government is behind new build and there is a decided interest.

Enter: China?

Westinghouse and Areva have both said they will not comment on press reports that they have each teamed up with a Chinese company to bid for the British nuclear power venture Horizon Nuclear Power.

Press reports in the UK said Areva and Westinghouse, which make competing designs of reactor, are thought to have each secured the backing of a Chinese state company.

Enter: Russia?

Rosatom, the state atomic energy corporation, is holding consultations over its possible involvement in the British nuclear program, according to deputy director general Kirill Komarov.

Hmm. That sounds – provisional. People “hold consultations” about things all the time.

Jukka Laaksonen, vice-president of ZAO Rusatom Overseas (Rosatom’s subsidiary set up to promote Russian nuclear technology abroad) announced at Atomexpo-2012 that Rosatom would apply to the British and US supervisory agencies to have its VVER PWR reactor technologies certified with them.

There are other reasons to do this than to open these particular marketplaces.

According to Nuclear.Ru, he said Rosatom plans to complete standard generic design assessment procedures within five years, in order to obtain licenses for the construction of VVER reactors in the UK.

It plans to apply later to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for certification of the VVER design. Approval by the British and American regulatory authorities will help promote VVER reactor technologies overseas, Mr Laaksonen believes.

In case you needed evidence that NRC license approval is considered an international gold standard. I don’t mean to suggest that the Russian presence would have sinister undertones, just that the effort to break into the American marketplace would take a lot of will – and money. So far, Rosatom hasn’t expended much of either.

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Currently, Horizon is owned by the German concerns E.ON and RWE, which has followed Germany away from nuclear power. When the ownership issue is settled – French, French/Japanese/Chinese - there will be a better sense of how the British industry will proceed – or at least might proceed.

4 comments:

SteveK9 said...

The idea that the NRC is the 'gold standard' is fading fast and will soon be history. China did not worry that the NRC had not finished its nearly endless approval process with the AP1000 or the EPR. Neither did Finland or India. Russia will probably have 2 dozen reactors built around the world in the next 10 years without the NRC. Assuming those customers end up happy, no one is going to halt any plans in the future, waiting for the NRC ... which is basically the organization where new nuclear designs go to die.

Colin Megson said...

When are we going to dump this flawed PWR technology, which gives so much ammunition to the anti-nuke brigade and is so distrusted by the general public? The UK has a great opportunity to get into molten salt reactor technology, by reproducing a scaled up version of the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), in order to burn our plutonium stockpile. Why give the cash to GEC Hitachi for their PRISM reactor, when we can have a British (Nuclear Industry)-Made reactor to do the same job.

We have the design/technological expertise and the manufacturing capacity to make these reactors, which are no more than 'glorified' hot-salt chemical plants. Does our nuclear industry have to sit on the side lines and watch PWRs being 'imported'?

http://lftrsuk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/en-route-to-building-first-of-kind-lftr.html

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