Nuclear growth on track for Harmony

23 April 2018

Nuclear growth is at a 25-year high driven by the need for clean and reliable electricity, World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising told the World Nuclear Fuel Cycle conference held in Madrid last week. While market problems persist in the USA, China's rate of nuclear approvals is picking up, other keynote speakers said. 

Agneta Rising addresses the WNFC (Image: WNFC)

The Association's Harmony initiative aims for nuclear energy to provide 25% of world electricity generation by 2050 as part of a diverse mix of low-carbon generating technologies to avoid the most damaging consequences of climate change, based on the International Energy Agency's "two-degree" scenario.

The 25 years to 2014 saw the start-up of an average of five nuclear reactors per year, Rising said. The period 2015-2017 saw an average of ten reactors per year, while 14 new reactors are expected to start up this year. The Harmony goal is achievable, Rising said, but more new construction starts are needed. The next two years will see 33 GWe of nuclear capacity added to the grid: 30 reactors, in ten countries, including two newcomer countries, she said.

However, some reactors face challenging conditions in deregulated markets that are not favourable towards nuclear energy, or indeed to any large investment, Rising said, highlighting recent announcements of reactor closures in the USA. Such reactors are not failing power plants, but are operating in failing markets, she said.

"If they don't value the environmental benefits, if they don't value the economical benefits to society, and only look at the cost and the price, some reactors will close … We have to work to see that the value we bring to society receives full recognition."

NEI's Four pillars

Dan Lipman, vice president of supplier and international programmes at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), described the current US situation as a "tale of two cities". US nuclear power plants last year enjoyed an excellent safety record, provided two-thirds of the USA's clean energy, and operated at capacity factors of over 90%. However there is low growth - if any at all - in US electricity demand, and a surge in low-cost shale gas. Fuel diversity is being taken for granted and undervalued, while state and federal mandates and subsidies for renewables distort markets, he said. Roughly half of US nuclear plants operate in regulated markets, where electricity prices are set by state authorities, but the remainder - those that operate in competitive markets - do not, and are affected by market design issues which fail to recognise valuable nuclear attributes and suppress prices.

With 4674 MWe of US nuclear capacity already closed since 2013 and over 11,000 MWe potentially facing premature closure in 2018-2025 for policy or market reasons, federal and state policymakers and grid operators face the choice of continuing to focus on short-term prices or considering the broader issues of a resilient, robust electricity system, clean air, health, jobs, tax revenues and other benefits, he said.

NEI is calling for a national nuclear strategy built on four pillars of Preserve, Sustain, Innovate and Thrive, Lipman said: preserving the current operating fleet - including discussions by the Federal Electricity Commission to recognise nuclear's contributions to grid resiliency - and legislative action, particularly at state level, recognising nuclear's attributes; sustain, through measures such as reducing regulatory burdens; supporting innovation, through streamlining the progression from design to commercial operation for new reactor designs, and developments such as accident-tolerant fuel, which can also help to revolutionise cost structure; and ensuring the nuclear industry continues to thrive, through international cooperation.

China approvals

CGN is the largest owner and operator of nuclear power plants in China, with 20 units in operation and eight under construction, CGN UK CEO Dongshan Zheng said. This also makes the company the largest builder of new nuclear power plants based on units under construction globally.

Following the Fukushima accident in Japan in March 2011, the Chinese government has approved only seven new reactors, he said, but six to eight new units are expected to be approved this year. The rate of approvals is still lower than before Fukushima, he added. CGN plants under construction include two EPRs, as a joint venture with EDF. Fuel loading began earlier this month at the first of these, Taishan 1, which is expected to be the first EPR in the world to start operations.

CGN is also involved in new-build projects in the UK through its GNI subsidiary, which holds 33.5% of the Hinkley Point C project and 20% of the Sizewell C EPR project, as well as 66.5% of the Bradwell B project where a Chinese-designed HPR1000 reactor is envisaged. The company has committed over GBP10 billion (USD13.9 billion) to UK new nuclear and has created the General Nuclear Services joint venture - of which CGN owns 66.5% - to undertake the UK's regulatory generic design assessment (GDA) process for HPR1000.

Zheng said the company also intends to build and develop resources in nuclear and other low-carbon generation in the UK, and to build its reputation as a "major credible long-term industrial player" in that country.

CGN has signed over 30 contracts with UK and EU companies over the past 20 months - worth about GBP60 million. "This is just the start - certainly with the development of the Bradwell power [station] we will have more contracts," he said.

Zheng said the company had analysed the possible consequences of Brexit before concluding contracts in 2016. "One thing is certain: the UK needs clean energy, and the UK needs nuclear," he said. "We think the market is there, the policy is there, and for Hinkley Point, already the Contract-for-Difference. We are very confident that the market we are working round has a very good future," he said.

The World Nuclear Fuel Cycle conference is an international forum co-organised by NEI and World Nuclear Association.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News