Global ups and downs

02 January 2013

Nuclear power begins 2013 with generating capacity 3667 MWe greater than a year before. The growth comes despite the retirement of Garoña and Gentilly 2 in the last week.

Both Gentilly 2 and Garoña had been set for upgrades and longer generation but political action based on energy policy and project risk brought new plans in the second half of 2012.

For Garoña the issue was the incoming tax arrangements of the Spanish government, which would have seen the plant's owner, Nuclenor, pay a tax on generation of electricity worth about €153 million ($202 million) per year. Nuclenor shut Garoña down on 16 December 2012 to avoid the tax, warning it could be forced into bankruptcy.

The move was confirmed as permanent on 28 December 2012 when the final text of the law was published, and Nuclenor said it would otherwise be made bankrupt by the retroactive application of the new nuclear tax. "In this situation, the only decision by managers responsible for safeguarding the workers' rights and economic capacity to undertake decommissioning is to close the facility immediately." Absent this legal change, Garoña would have undergone €120 million ($159 million) in modernization before its current licence expires in July this year so that it could generate until 2019.

Political risk also ended the life of Gentilly 2, a Candu unit in Canada's Quebec province. The reactor had been ready for refurbishment and a lifespan out to around 2035, with over CAD800 million ($812 million) spent on this plan by provincially-owned Hydro-Quebec covering components and waste storage improvements. The government of Quebec, however, changed its mind in September 2012 and the plant was permanently shut down on 28 December 2012. One factor in the decision was the expensive overrun of a similar refurbishment at Point Lepreau.

While capacity may be edging up despite any policy effects of the Fukushima accident, generation remains low. Data is not yet available for the amount of electricity produced by the world's reactors in 2012, but it is sure to be significantly below the 2011 and 2010 figures. Of Japan's total 44,396 MWe nuclear capacity, only 2254 MWe from Ohi 3 and 4 has been in operation.

The only two other reactors to shut down permanently in 2012 were Oldbury 1 and Wylfa 1, both in the UK. These Magnox units had reached the end of their lives, having started in 1967 and 1972, respectively.

Consolidating the above, nuclear power generating capacity retired in 2012 was 1811 MWe: 466 MWe from Garoña; 638 MWe from Gentilly 2; 217 MWe from Oldbury 1 and 490 MWe from Wylfa.

Outweighing this was 3039 MWe in new plant brought online in Asia: South Korea's Shin Kori 2 and Shin Wolsong 1, both at 1001 MWe; and China's 1037 MWe Ningde 1. Old reactors were brought back into operation after refurbishment and mothballing in Canada. Bruce A1 and A2 returned with 750 MWe each, and Point Lepreau was back online with 635 MWe. In addition, the trend of uprates among the older American reactors continued, with 304 MWe added over the year at Columbia, Shearon Harris, Turkey Point 3 and St Lucie 1.

The end result is a net increase in nuclear generating capacity of 3667 MWe, an increase of about 1% compared to the figure for January 2012. Currently 374,088 MWe of nuclear capacity is operable worldwide from 435 reactors.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News