Signs of a new beginning30 May 2001
A review of the main events in the nuclear industry worldwide since June 2000.
With the start of the new millennium, the outlook for the industry suddenly looks promising. Power shortages in the USA have forced politicians and the public to reconsider nuclear. The US national energy plan (see page 2) appears to give the industry a new lease of life, but there may be a long way to go before the proposals become a reality. However, the renewed hope for the US industry isn’t the case around the globe. With the exception of Finland, support for nuclear in western Europe appears to be weakening further. It looks like the industry is at a turning point, and it could turn in either direction.
Perhaps the most significant event over the last year was the closure of unit 3 at Chernobyl. We certainly haven’t heard the last of the world’s most infamous nuclear plant, but the shutdown marked a symbolic end to an era. It is now time to look to the future. A safe, clean nuclear industry should be the answer to the increasing energy demands around the world. But are governments ready to take such a bold step? The time is fast approaching for each nation to decide on how they will satisfy their future energy requirements.
The government says that the Armenia 2 plant in Metsamor, which produces about 40% of the country’s electricity, could be operated until at least 2013. In 1999, the country had agreed to shut down the unit before the end of 2004, on the condition that an alternative source of energy could be found. The $16 million for fuel deliveries that Armenia owes Russia threatened future supply but recently the issue seems to have been resolved (see page 4).
Just before the merger with Framatome was finalised, the first Siemens nuclear plant since Neckar 2 in Germany was commissioned at the end of December 2000.
Angra 2 is also the first unit to be completed under the 1975 German-Brazilian intergovernmental agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It is likely that its twin unit, Angra 3 will now be completed.
The European Commission approved a loan of r212.5 million to upgrade Kozloduy 5 and 6. The loan is linked to the closure of units 1-4 and Bulgaria’s entry into the European Union. A new plant is planned for the country, but a final decision on construction has not yet been taken. The country is also considering resuming construction of the Belene plant, which was abandoned in 1993.
A C$340 million programme to restart Bruce A units 3 and 4 has commenced, with both units expected to be operational by summer 2003. There are no plans to restart units 1 and 2. Ontario Power intend to restart Pickering 1-4. Proposals for the restart will be reviewed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission later this summer.
Chile is reported to be looking into a nuclear power programme as an option to cover an expected shortfall of 4000MWe of baseload capacity by 2015. The country had considered launching a nuclear power programme in the 1970s, and developed a nuclear research infrastructure which continued after the power project was halted in the 1980s.
It is likely that the country’s rapid economic development, and a corresponding increased electricity demand, will continue. As a result, prime minister Zhu Rongji has said that China needs to “moderately develop nuclear power” during the country’s 10th five-year plan (2001-2005).
The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) applied to build two more reactors at Qinshan, but the Zhejiang planners turned it down. A compromise decision was reached in which the province would support CNNC’s plans at a new site at Sanmen. CNNC has no independent financing sources and is expected to bid for the project with BNFL/Westinghouse, alongside the Shanghai Nuclear Energy Research and Design Institute.
A proposal for a PWR project in the Shandong province backed by China’s State Power Corporation (SPC) is facing problems. SPC is being broken up to separate the generation and transmission businesses, with the generation half possibly being further broken up into municipal or regional organisations. If this happens, SPC will not be in a position to raise funds for the project.
The other nuclear power projects that are likely to form part of the five-year plan are Ling Ao 1 and 2, and Tianwan 1 and 2.
The Russian trade ministry has said that it is still interested in helping Cuba complete the first of the Juragua VVER reactors. Construction was abandoned nine years ago and the USA strongly opposes completion of the units.
It has been an eventful year at the Temelin plant. Unit 1 has been in the process of being started up since October, but has yet to reach 100% output due to repeated technical problems in the non-nuclear power-generating part of the station.
The shutdowns have provided ammunition for the Austrians, who are vehemently opposed to plant which is situated just over 50km from its border. Unit 2 is near completion and fuel for the unit was delivered in April.
Plans to build Finland’s fifth reactor are underway. The country is strongly opposed to increasing greenhouse gas emissions and sees the new reactor, likely to be at Loviisa, as the best solution to meet increasing energy requirements.
The government decided in principle to proceed with the construction of a deep geological repository for high level wastes at Eurajoki, near the Olkiluoto plant. Recently the project was approved by an overwhelming parliamentary majority (see page 3). The repository has the support of the local residents and the national nuclear safety authority.
Electricité de France (EdF) has concluded that no new nuclear capacity will be required for the next 20 years. This decision is based on the uncertainties surrounding the future of nuclear power generation within the European Union.
France has signed a nuclear co-operation agreement with Russia, enabling large-scale supply of French nuclear equipment to Russia. The two countries also agreed to study the feasibility of building the Franco-German European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) in Russia.
Cogema’s La Hague reprocessing facility had refused to accept fresh shipments of German spent fuel until six casks of vitrified high level waste were returned to Germany. The waste had been awaiting transport since Germany introduced a ban on all spent fuel and high level waste transports in mid-1988. The casks have since been returned to Germany (see below).
The Social Democrat-Green ruling coalition government came to an agreement with the country’s nuclear utilities, allowing reactors to produce up to 2630TWh before being shut down. Under the terms of the agreement, each of the German reactors will be assigned a figure for the amount of power it can generate before being shut down. This is partly determined using a reference figure for annual power generation for each plant, which will be an average of the five best years between 1990 and 1999. The figure is escalated to allow for uprating, improved performance, and the needs of the grid, but is capped at 2630TWh across the industry.
Amid large-scale protests, Germany has resumed transportation of spent fuel movements. The first shipment of vitrified waste from La Hague to the Gorleben waste facility, which arrived at the end of March, saw Germany’s biggest peacetime security operations. Further shipments are planned, including the transportation of used fuel from the Neckarwestheim plant to Sellafield in the UK.
Since the country refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, foreign co-operation with the nuclear industry has been very limited. Nevertheless the government is planning for rapid expansion of nuclear power, saying that India will increase its nuclear power generation capacity eight-fold in the next 20 years. India does not have large uranium reserves, but owns nearly a third of the world’s thorium reserves. The Atomic Energy Commission believes that the projected demand will be met by rapid development of a closed nuclear fuel cycle involving efficient conversion, reprocessing and recycling of its thorium reserves.
A detailed project report for two Indo-Russian VVER-1000 reactors at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu is expected later this year. In order to raise enough capital for the project, India’s Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) is seeking changes in legislation. Currently only NPC or its subsidiaries are allowed to run nuclear power plants. If a financial institution is to take a stake in the equity of a nuclear power company, it would require some change in the law. Over 50% of the funding would be by suppliers credit from Russia and the rest of the money would come as equity from the government and, after the change in the law, from financial institutions.
Other major construction projects under implementation by the NPC are two 500MWe units at Tarapur and two 220MWe units at Kaiga.
Work on unit 1 of the Bushehr power plant is now over 90% complete and is due to come on line in 2003. Russian engineers began work on the VVER-1000 in 1995, and have recently begun work on a second reactor. Despite strong protests from the USA, Atommash has announced that it has delivered the platform for the second reactor.
Kansai Electric came to an agreement with BNFL to return the eight MOX fuel assemblies at Takahama following the data falsification debacle. The use of MOX at Takahama has been indefinitely postponed. In Fukushima, the governor has refused to give permission for Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) to load MOX fuel into local reactors because of the utility freezing work on non-nuclear power plants in the prefecture. It is now likely that the first reactor to be loaded with MOX fuel will be a BWR unit at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. The 28 fuel assemblies, manufactured by Belgonucleaire, arrived at the end of March.
Meanwhile Tepco is committed to nuclear power partly due to greenhouse gas emission considerations. However, the country announced that building between 16 and 20 reactors by 2020 as previously planned has become unrealistic following the Tokai Mura accident.
There are plans to construct three VVER-640 units at Balkash. To replace the BN-350 FBR, currently undergoing decommissioning, Kazakhstan is looking at VNM-170 Modular FBRs.
The country also plans to increase production of uranium by 30% year-on-year. According to a development programme for the Kazakh uranium industry, production is planned to continuously increase until 2005.
The European Union and the Lithuanian government have agreed to a programme to close Ignalina 1 by the end of 2005. The deal includes a r45 million grant, part of which will be used to put in place alternative energy sources. The closure of Ignalina’s two RBMK-1000 reactors is one of the conditions for membership of the EU. The government is under pressure from the EU to set a date for the closure of the second unit, but remained vague on this issue. The two units at Ignalina are the largest RBMKs in operation – they were originally rated at 1500MWe when they started up in 1983 and 1986. Among the safety upgrades initiated at the plant since the Chernobyl accident in 1986, both units were derated to 1300MWe.
Russia had offered to lease the plant and modernise the facility, but this was rejected by officials from Lithuania and the EU.
The US-led Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO) project to build two 1000MWe reactors has been delayed for various reasons. Progress had been looking promising following the signing of a contract to build the reactors by South Korea’s state-owned Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), and a consortium of four South Korean companies. However, it appears that the new US administration is reluctant to proceed with the project. The administration is reportedly seeking to replace the reactors with coal-generated plants to prevent possible nuclear weapons proliferation.
The light water reactors are being built in exchange for North Korea’s agreement to mothball a heavy water reactor suspected to be a part of a weapons development programme. Construction is currently at least four years behind the original 2003 schedule. North Korea is demanding the provision of interim electricity aid as compensation for the delays.
The 325MWe Chasma plant started up in September 2000 and is supplying electricity to the Water and Power Development Authority, which runs Pakistan’s electricity grid. The country’s second nuclear power station is based on the Qinshan 1 plant in China, which was designed by Chinese engineers and based on western PWR designs. Chasma differs from its Chinese reference plant in that the reactor pressure vessel was manufactured by a Chinese company. The Qinshan 1 pressure vessel was supplied by Mitsubishi of Japan, but Pakistan’s status outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty meant that China had to supply the pressure
vessel along with the rest of the unit.
At Chasma’s inauguration ceremony the chairman of the country’s Atomic Energy Commission said that Pakistan hopes to have another nuclear plant soon.
The government commenced negotiations with AECL and several foreign banks on a credit package worth about $400 million to cover the cost of a second reactor at Cernavoda. The reactor is about 40% complete and is estimated to come on line by 2004.
President Vladimir Putin has replaced the nuclear power minister, Yevgeny Adamov, amid accusations of corruption, abuse of office and a controversial plan to import spent nuclear fuel for storage. Career scientist Alexander Rumyantsev, executive director of the Moscow-based Kurchatov Institute, has been named as Adamov’s successor. Legislators and environmental activists welcomed the change, although it seems unlikely that it will herald any significant change in Minatom’s policies.
Russia’s nuclear stations exceeded Federal Energy Commission targets by 4.7% in 2000, surpassing production levels set during the Soviet era for the first time since the collapse of the USSR. They produced more than 130.6TWh, compared with 110.9TWh in 1999. The average load factor was 74.4%, an increase of about 10% from 1999.
Rostov 1, Russia’s first new nuclear plant since the Soviet era, was officially opened this year. The new generation VVER-1000 reactor had been almost complete when the government froze construction on all Russian nuclear plants in 1990 following protests over the Chernobyl accident. Rostov 1 is due to reach full capacity this summer and commercial start-up is planned for October.
The first deputy nuclear energy minister, Vladimir Vinogradov, said that completion of Kalinin 3, a VVER-1000, is a priority. Next on the list of priorities are Kursk 5 (an RBMK-1000) and Rostov 2 (VVER-1000). The Kalinin and Kursk units are scheduled for commissioning in 2003.
Plans to build a nuclear plant in the far east region have been revived, and work has begun on a feasibility study for the project. The plan is to build a 1300MWe plant in the region, which suffers from chronic power shortages.
A programme to extend the operating life of 12 first-generation VVER-440 reactors has been approved. Minatom had planned for new third-generation plants to replace the units, but these have been curtailed because of economic difficulties.
Russia’s Duma approved draft laws allowing the import of spent fuel for reprocessing and storage (see page 15). After substantial debate, three bills have been cleared for a third reading, expected soon. The key bill, an amendment to Article 50 of the legislation on Protection of the Natural Environment was passed 224-114. The new energy minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, said: “we shall be able to increase 3- or 4-fold the reprocessing of our own spent fuel.”
The European Union has agreed to Slovakia closing the two Bohunice V1 units (both VVER-440 reactors) in 2006 and 2008. The decision means Slovakia joined the list of countries seeking EU membership. The closure is likely to cost around $360 million, according to Slovak power utility SE.
A detailed feasibility study of Eskom’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) design is scheduled to be completed soon. If favourable, construction of a prototype PBMR, a 110MWe helium-cooled reactor, could begin as early as the middle of 2002.
There is much interest, particularly in the USA, in the development of the PBMR. BNFL has already invested $15 million, acquiring a 20% equity stake in the enterprise. At the end of last year Peco Energy agreed to acquire a 20% stake. Eskom and the Industrial Development Corporation jointly hold 50% of the project, and a further 10% has been reserved for a black economic empowerment company.
Kepco has approved plans to build two more PWRs at Kori. The company has also announced that Shin-Kori, adjacent to Kori, would be dedicated to four 1400MWe PWRs. It is expected that Shin-Kori 1 will be completed in 2010, and Shin-Kori 2 the following year.
At the end of 2000, Kepco told Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) that it would not build additional Candu PHWRs beyond Wolsong 4.
Following the premature closure of Barsebäck 1 at the end of 1999, the country has decided to delay the closure of Barsebäck 2. The temporary backdown follows the admission last August of the country’s energy minister that closing the unit would jeopardise the supply of electricity to the south of Sweden during cold periods and would increase imports of electricity generated in fossil fuel plants.
Closure of Barsebäck 1 has led to increased carbon dioxide emissions from Danish coal-fired plants.
A bitter row which threatened to bring down the government broke out after premier Chang Chun-Hsiang decided to halt the construction of the $5.3 billion Lungmen ABWR. The Council of Grand Justices ruled that the decision to scrap the island’s fourth reactor was flawed, but stopped short of saying it was unconstitutional. A vote in the country’s legislative Yuan earlier this year on resuming construction was won decisively by the opposition Kuomintang. Following the vote, the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) agreed that construction could be resumed.
The issue has not by any means been resolved. The agreement will only allow construction to be resumed until the end of the year, by which time elections will have been held and the question can be passed to the new Yuan. The DPP are likely to have agreed to the deal in the hope that, following the elections, the party will increase the number of seats it holds in the Yuan.
Turkey has abandoned plans to build the Akkuyu plant. Prime minister Bulent Ecevit said the government could not afford the estimated $3-4 billion cost.
In the face of heavy opposition in parliament, president Leonid Kuchma ordered the final closure of Chernobyl on 15 December 2000. Amid messages of goodwill from world leaders, he stressed the necessity of closing Chernobyl in the interests of the Ukrainian people and the international community.
To replace the capacity which was lost through the closure of Chernobyl 3, the completion of the Khmelnitski 2 and Rovno 4 (K2R4) units has become a priority. Construction of the VVER-1000 reactors began under the Soviet system, and both had neared completion, but work stopped several years ago.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) approved a $215 million loan to help with the completion and safety upgrades of the K2R4 reactors. The project has been repeatedly held up due to new conditions being imposed on loans by the EBRD, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Similarly, EBRD funding for the Chernobyl Shelter project has also been subject to delays arising from strings being attached to the financing.
Ukraine’s Energoatom has entered into a nuclear fuel purchase deal with Russia’s TVEL. Ukraine will buy $209 million worth of fuel and pay $57 million for spent fuel removal this year. The deal will supply the South Ukraine and Rovno plants.
BNFL has been trying to recover from the repercussions of the falsification of MOX fuel quality assurance records (see also page 23, Japan). Early in 2001 the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) announced that it was satisfied BNFL had completed all 15 recommendations in its report on the company’s MOX demonstration facility (MDF) at Sellafield. The MDF is now being recommissioned as a support facility for the Sellafield MOX plant (SMP). The future of SMP remains uncertain, with the department of the environment, transport and regions (DETR) stalling a decision on approval.
The costs associated with the falsification of data hit BNFL’s annual results. From a pretax profit of £218 million in 1998-99, the company announced a pretax loss of £337 million.
It was bad news also for Magrox as BNFL announced that it will stop development of the fuel system. Magrox was intended to solve one of the big obstacles to further extending the life of some of BNFL’s Magnox plants. The decision came after close examination of the economics had not proved the viability of the fuel. BNFL has announced a “phased programme for the cessation of electricity generation” at the plants, but is developing plans to build new plants on the sites.
Unplanned outages at Heysham 2 and Dungeness B contributed to an almost 20% fall in profits for British Energy. The company is currently drawing up plans to build a chain of nuclear plants to replace its seven AGRs, the first of which is due to be shut down in about 2014. However, British Energy is also showing signs of turning its back on nuclear power. It recently announced that it is to develop large-scale offshore wind power farms, and is planning to produce up to 2% of its electricity from wind power by 2010.
The HSE found that Heysham 2 and Torness are safe to operate for a further 10 years. The two plants share a common basic design, and were built and commissioned in parallel.
At the end of 2000 AEA Technology announced that it is getting out of the nuclear industry. Although hinting that a sale of its nuclear interests was imminent, no further action has been taken to date.
The prospects for the industry have been looking increasingly more promising throughout the year. The 103 commercial plants currently in operation produced a record amount of electricity in 2000, approximately 755TWh, while maintaining record high safety levels. The units achieved an all-time high average capacity factor of 86.9%.
Despite strong support for nuclear power in the national energy plan, there was bad news when president Bush disowned the Kyoto agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions. This was soon followed by the news that the proposed budget for the Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) fiscal year 2002 seeks only $223.1 million for the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology. The amount is $20 million, or about 8.4%, less than the current funding level.
On the other hand, two senate committee chairmen have introduced separate but similar bills that are intended to provide financial incentives to increase the output of existing US nuclear plants, while at the same time laying down the foundation for possible future nuclear construction.
Meanwhile, vice president Dick Cheney has said on several occasions that new nuclear plants ought to be part of the US energy mix. “We need to build 65 new power plants a year in this country for the next 20 years,” he said. “My own view is that some of those ought to be nuclear and that’s the environmentally sound way to go.”
Public support for building new nuclear plants has jumped as a result of the energy crisis in California. The power shortages resulted in high debts for Californian utilities. Pacific Gas & Electric spent $8.2 billion more on buying electricity than it collected from its customers and has recently filed for bankruptcy. In anticipation of a new building programme, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has formed an internal group charged with preparing the agency to handle possible applications for licences to build new nuclear plants.
Unit 1 of Arkansas Nuclear One is likely to be the next plant to receive a 20-year licence extension. The application is under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and a decision is expected this summer. If approved the plant, owned and operated by Entergy Nuclear of New Orleans, Louisiana, will become the sixth US unit to receive a 20-year extension after Calvert Cliffs 1 and 2, and Oconee 1, 2 and 3. Carolina Power & Light has announced plans to ask the NRC for 20-year operating licence extensions for HB Robinson 2, and Brunswick 1 and 2.
Utility companies have been showing interest in acquiring nuclear units. Entergy agreed to purchase Indian Point 2 (and the shut down unit 1) from Consolidated Edison, following a competitive bidding process. Entergy was also involved in a bitter battle with AmerGen Energy over the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The owners eventually rejected offers from both companies and have decided to auction the plant. Last year Dominion Resources of Richmond, Virginia won an intensive bidding process for the Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut.
The merger between FPL Group of Miami, Florida and Entergy was called off due to management issues of the combined company and the value of some assets. The merger would have created the second largest nuclear power generator in the US.