South African women awarded Goldman Prize
Two remarkable South African women, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, were among the recipients of the prestigious Goldman Prize, announced on April 23. Lekalakala (director of Earthlife Africa) and McDaid (climate change coordinator for Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute) were recognized for their central role in the campaign against new nuclear power reactors.
The Guardian reported:
"Two grassroots women activists – one black, one white – stand together against two of the world's most powerful men – one black, one white – over a secret, undemocratic, multibillion dollar nuclear deal. If this was the plot of a Netflix series, it might be dismissed as too neat, too perfectly symbolic and symmetrical. But this is the true story of the two South African winners of this year's Goldman environment prize who tapped their roots in the anti-apartheid struggle to take on and beat an agreement by their nation's recently deposed leader Jacob Zuma and Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
"Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid were the sole signatories of a successful legal challenge against the plan for South Africa to buy up to 10 nuclear power stations from Russia at an estimated cost of 1tn rand ($76bn). After a five-year legal battle, a high court outlawed the deal last April and accepted the plaintiffs' claims that it had been arranged without proper consultation with parliament. Aside from the immense geopolitical ramifications, the ruling was a vindication for the civil society movement that aims to expand public participation, especially by woman, in energy decision-making.
"There were risks in confronting the president, the electricity utility and the interests of a foreign power. The two women were warned they could face violence and attacks on their reputation, but they signed the legal papers regardless. "It is important that this campaign is led by women," Lekalakala said in an interview in Cape Town. "We are getting this prize because we really sacrificed ourselves by putting our names on the line. Others were shit-scared. But we've been through so much that we were willing to take the risk.""
Lekalakala told New Internationalist: "When the judge made the announcement that we got everything we had asked for, I broke down in tears." McDaid added: "And I shouted right there in court, although I knew that you have to keep silent in court. So many times we thought that the forces against us were too great. Our first court appearance got postponed and we were running against time. They attempted to block us, to wear us out, to make us run out of money ‒ we did run out of money, but our legal team were amazing: they kept carrying on ‒ but all this only made us more determined to fight."
Jonathan Watts, 23 April 2018, 'Goldman prize awarded to South African women who stopped an international nuclear deal' www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/23/goldman-prize-awarded-to-south-afr...
Veronique Mistiaen, 23 April 2018, 'The Women Who Stopped the Nuclear Deal', https://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2018/04/23/women-stopped-nucle...
'Makoma Lekalakala & Liz McDaid ‒ 2018 Goldman Prize Recipients', www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/makoma-lekalakala-liz-mcdaid/
South Africa: Yellowcake blues in Karoo
We noted in Nuclear Monitor #857 that the uranium industry's downturn might be reversed by decisions taken by Cameco (Canada) and Kazatomprom (Kazakhstan) in late 2017 to significantly reduce production. However those decisions have not yet had any impact. Indeed the spot price and long-term contract price have both declined this year and the long-term price has fallen below US$30 / lb U3O8 for first time since April 2005.1
The latest casualty is Western Australia-based Peninsula Energy Ltd., which confirmed in late April its withdrawal from any further development of the Karoo uranium project in South Africa.2,3 Managing director Wayne Heili said: "In this enduring difficult uranium market, it has proven unrealistic to attribute any value to the Karoo project."2
Over the remainder of 2018, the activities at Karoo will focus on the rehabilitation of exploration and historical trial mining activities. Peninsula Energy claims that progress has already been made with the rehabilitation of more than 6,000 boreholes.2
2. 27 April 2018, 'Peninsula Energy confirms withdrawal from Karoo to focus on Lance Uranium Project', www.proactiveinvestors.com.au/companies/news/195911/peninsula-energy-con...
3. Dr. Stefan Cramer, 'Farewell to Shell – and the Ozzies go (down) under', http://uranium-network.org/images/Farewell_to_Shell_and_the_Ozzies.pdf
Generation IV R&D "a growing challenge"
The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency noted in its March 2018 monthly bulletin that "maintaining existing facilities operational is a growing challenge" for members of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF).1
The Nuclear Energy Agency was reporting on a February meeting of the Forum's new task force, established to identify R&D facilities needed for the development of Generation IV systems. Presentations were made by the representatives of the six systems that GIF member countries are exploring ‒ gas-cooled fast reactors, sodium-cooled fast reactors, lead-cooled fast reactors, molten salt reactors, supercritical water-cooled reactors, and very high temperature reactors ‒ highlighting existing R&D capabilities and also gaps.
Filling those gaps will presumably be difficult if, as the Nuclear Energy Agency states, just maintaining existing facilities operational is a growing challenge.
Industry bodies such as the Nuclear Energy Agency are typically more bullish about Generation IV prospects. However the timelines are repeatedly deferred: Generation IV reactors were 20 years away 20 years ago, they are 20 years away now, and they will likely be 20 years away 20 years from now.
The Generation IV International Forum states: "It will take at least two or three decades before the deployment of commercial Gen IV systems. In the meantime, a number of prototypes will need to be built and operated. The Gen IV concepts currently under investigation are not all on the same timeline and some might not even reach the stage of commercial exploitation."2
The International Atomic Energy Agency states: "Experts expect that the first Generation IV fast reactor demonstration plants and prototypes will be in operation by 2030 to 2040."3 A 2015 report by the French government's Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) states: "There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen."4
The World Nuclear Association noted in 2009 that "progress is seen as slow, and several potential designs have been undergoing evaluation on paper for many years."5
1. OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, 'Generation IV research and development', NEA Monthly News Bulletin – March 2018, www.oecd-nea.org/general/mnb/2018/march.html
3. Peter Rickwood and Peter Kaiser, 1 March 2013, 'Fast Reactors Provide Sustainable Nuclear Power for "Thousands of Years"', www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/2013/fastreactors.html
4. Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, 2015, 'Review of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems', www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Pages/20150427_Generation-IV-nuclear-energy...
Direct download: www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Documents/IRSN_Report-GenIV_04-2015.pdf
5. World Nuclear Association, 15 Dec 2009, 'Fast moves? Not exactly...', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN_France_puts_into_future_nuclear_1512091.html
US House of Reps approves dodgy fast reactor project
Dr Ed Lyman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, writes:
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) supports a moderate level of Department of Energy (DOE) research funding to make nuclear power safer and more secure—for example the agency's program to develop accident tolerant fuels for nuclear reactors. Conversely, UCS does not support programs that not only would cost a lot of money, but also could make nuclear power more dangerous and less secure. That's why the organization is troubled by a bill that was passed by the House of Representatives on February 13.
The bill in question, H.R. 4378, authorizes the secretary of energy to spend nearly $2 billion over the next seven years to build what's called a "versatile reactor-based fast neutron source." As its name indicates, the primary purpose of this facility would be to provide a source of high-energy neutrons to help researchers develop fuels and materials for a class of advanced nuclear reactors called fast reactors.
What may not be clear from the name is that this facility itself would be an experimental fast reactor, likely fueled with weapon-usable plutonium. Compared to conventional light-water reactors, fast reactors are less safe, more expensive, and more difficult to operate and repair. ...
The amount of funding authorized by H.R. 4378 for designing and constructing this fast reactor is less than 60 percent of its estimated cost of $3.36 billion ... It's also important to keep in mind that the estimated cost of $3.36 billion is just a fraction of the project's total cost. It does not include a facility to fabricate the plutonium fuel, which could add billions to the final price tag.
Ed Lyman, 15 Feb 2018, 'The "Versatile Fast Neutron Source": A Misguided Nuclear Reactor Project', https://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/a-misguided-nuclear-reactor-project
New solar eclipsed fossil fuels in 2017
A UN-backed report finds that a record 157 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable electricity capacity was added worldwide in 2017, more than double the amount of new capacity from fossil fuels.1
Globally, a record 98 GW of solar power capacity was installed last year with China contributing more than half (53 GW), according to UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
New renewable capacity of 157 GW ‒ also including wind, bio-fuels and geothermal energy ‒ more than doubled the 70 GW of net new capacity from fossil fuels in 2017. (Nuclear power capacity fell by 1.3 GW in 2017 as discussed in Nuclear Monitor #856).
"We are at a turning point from fossil fuels to the renewable world," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. "The markets are there and renewable energy can take on coal, it can take on oil and gas."
Meanwhile, a separate Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report finds that the average cost of solar PV (US$70/MWh) and onshore wind (US$55/MWh) has fallen by 18% in the past year alone and the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen 79% since 2010.2
BNEF says its latest report on the levelized costs of electricity, or LCOE, finds that fossil fuel power is facing an unprecedented challenge in all three roles it performs in the energy mix – the supply of 'bulk generation,' the supply of 'dispatchable generation,' and the provision of 'flexibility.'
Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at BNEF, said: "Some existing coal and gas power stations, with sunk capital costs, will continue to have a role for many years, doing a combination of bulk generation and balancing, as wind and solar penetration increase. But the economic case for building new coal and gas capacity is crumbling, as batteries start to encroach on the flexibility and peaking revenues enjoyed by fossil fuel plants."
However, as Energy Post Weekly notes3, another recent report provides a reality check. The report ‒ 'Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report' ‒ was published by the World Bank Group, the International Energy Agency, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the United Nations Statistics Division, and the World Health Organization.4 It considers broad energy issues rather than just electricity generation, and finds that:
- the share of renewable energy is declining in numerous countries;
- patterns of energy intensity – primary energy demand per unit of gross domestic product – are mixed (the global reduction in energy intensity in 2017 of 1.7% was weaker than the average reduction of 2.3% over the previous three years);
- global CO2 emissions rose 1.4% in 2017 after remaining flat for three years;
- energy demand grew an estimated 2.1% in 2017, double the rate of increase in 2016; and
- in 2017, the carbon intensity of energy supply ‒ CO2 emissions per unit of total primary energy supply ‒ increased for the first time in three years as fossil fuels met over 70% of the growth in energy demand.
1. David Twomey, 6 April 2018, 'UN reports new solar power eclipsed fossil fuels in 2017', http://econews.com.au/57315/un-reports-new-solar-power-eclipsed-fossil-f...
2. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 28 March 2018, 'Tumbling Costs for Wind, Solar, Batteries Are Squeezing Fossil Fuels', https://about.bnef.com/blog/tumbling-costs-wind-solar-batteries-squeezin...
3. Energy Post Weekly, 8 May 2018, 'Reality check: worldwide renewable energy share declines, fossil fuels grow', https://energypostweekly.eu/may-8-2018-express/#section_1
4. International Energy Agency, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the UN, the World Bank and the World Health Organisation, 2018, 'Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report', http://trackingsdg7.esmap.org/data/files/download-documents/tracking_sdg...
Is China losing interest in nuclear power?
chinadialogue researcher Feng Hao writes:
Policymakers may cite various strategic reasons for backing nuclear power but there is a question mark hanging over the sector's future growth. China has 20 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity under construction but plans for additional capacity are being delayed. A 2020 target of 58 gigawatts of installed nuclear capacity now looks out of reach. The National Energy Administration did not approve any new nuclear plants between 2016 and 2017. In 2017, only three new reactors started operating.
Shi Lishan, head of the nuclear power office at the National Energy Administration, admitted at a meeting of the Chinese Society for Electrical Engineering last year that, "achieving targets set in the past now looks uncertain, with reactors that have been built and that are ready for fuelling and going into operation also on hold."
Reasons for the shift, according to Shi, include mixed attitudes towards new nuclear power within government, and the over-supply that's affecting China's power generation sector. As China's economic growth has eased, so too has the growth in electricity demand. In 2015, electricity consumption rose just 0.5%, the lowest in 40 years.
"Work out supply and demand and you can see that the market is unable to absorb any more nuclear power," Kang Junjie, chief engineer with Dongdian Wanwei Technology (Beijing) told chinadialogue.
This leaves little room for expansion of electricity generation, meaning fierce competition between nuclear, solar, wind and hydropower. Globally, solar and wind are replacing nuclear power as the first choice for new power generation. This is true in China, too.
Cost is a key factor: the earlier nuclear power plants are now in the mid-to-late stages of their lifecycle, with operational and maintenance costs rising, according to Kang Junjie. Meanwhile, renewables are in the ascendant, with costs continuing to fall.
Analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that the cost of power from China's onshore wind and solar will drop below that of coal in 2019 and 2021, respectively, suggesting that the cost advantage of nuclear power over renewables will only last a few more years.
Abridged from: Feng Hao, 19 March 2018, 'Is China losing interest in nuclear power?', www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/10506-Is-China-losing-inter...
UK reactor cracks the beginning of the end
EDF Energy has announced that reactor #3 of its Hunterston B nuclear power plant in Scotland will remain offline while new cracks are investigated in the reactor's graphite core. It is an Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR), operating since 1976.
The latest cracks have appeared quicker than anticipated according to World Nuclear News.1 The integrity of the thousands of graphite blocks that make up the reactor core is vital to nuclear safety ‒ they ensure that the reactor can be cooled and safely shut down in an emergency ‒ but bombardment by intense radiation over decades causes the blocks to start cracking.2
If the graphite blocks are weakened, there's a chance an earthquake or modest tremor could trigger a meltdown and radioactive release, consultant John Large told Deutsche Welle. "EDF can't do anything physically to resolve the situation. The bricks were never designed to be replaced. In fact, it's entirely inaccessible inside the reactor's core," he said.3
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) said it was informed in March 2018 that additional cracks had been found during planned inspections of the graphite blocks. EDF Energy said the inspections "confirmed the expected presence of new keyway root cracks in the reactor core and also identified these happening at a slightly higher rate than modelled".1
EDF said reactor #3 will remain offline while the company works with the regulator on a safety case and that it expects the reactor ‒ which was originally planned to operate until 2011 ‒ to be restarted before the end of this year.1
The outage is the longest yet over the graphite issue, which EDF calls a "unique challenge", and company presentations concede the cracking "will probably limit the lifetime for the current generation of AGRs".4
Nuclear critic and consultant Pete Roche pointed out that Hunterston is now 42 years old and he doubts that it will be restarted. "This must surely be the end for reactor three," he said.2
The problems with reactor #3 at Hunterston B raise questions over the future of six other AGRs operating in the UK ‒ Torness, Hinkley Point B, Hartlepool, Heysham 1 and 2, and Dungeness B. Large said: "They all have the same aging problem. They were all built in the 70s and 80s, and that means that all of them have reached this threshold limit when the key-route cracking becomes a problem."3
"We are gambling with public safety by extending the lives of old reactors," Roche said. He expects Hinkley Point B to close "very soon", followed by others. "Even Torness has passed the 30-year threshold, so may not make it to its expected 2030 closure date."2
Hinkley Point B, which came online in 1976, is offline to carry out checks for cracks. The reactor has been providing power for the 3,500-strong workforce constructing Hinkley Point C.4
The temporary shutdown of reactor #3 at Hunterston B is expected to cost EDF Energy an estimated £120m in lost revenue.4 A Bernstein Bank analyst said it would also hurt the price British Gas's parent company, Centrica, would fetch for its stake in the plants. Centrica recently said it hoped to sell its 20% share of in EDF Energy Nuclear Generation, which owns Britain's existing eight nuclear power stations, by 2020.4
1. World Nuclear News, 3 May 2018, 'New cracks delay restart of Hunterston B reactor', www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-New-cracks-delay-restart-of-Hunterston-B-r...
2. Rob Edwards, 6 May 2018, 'Keeping old nuclear reactors like those at troubled Hunterston going is "gambling with public safety", says expert', www.heraldscotland.com/news/16207870.Chain_reaction__Hunterston_closure_...
3. Natalie Muller, 6 May 2018, 'UK's aging nuclear reactors have 'reached threshold limit'', http://p.dw.com/p/2xFvT
4. Adam Vaughan, 7 May 2018, 'Cracks in nuclear reactor will hit EDF Energy with £120m bill', www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/06/cracks-nuclear-reactor-threa...
Hinkley Point C – ONR concerns
The UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has raised concerns with EDF Energy over management failings that could affect safety at the Hinkley Point C power station if left unaddressed. ONR identified five key areas of supply chain management where improvements are needed ahead of acceleration in both construction and manufacturing for the project. ONR has rated an overall inspection finding as 'amber'. This means that some arrangements are below standard and the ONR is seeking improvements. The five key areas include issues such as improvement programmes, lessons learned, self-assessment and quality assurance.
nuClear news No.106, April 2018, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/NuClearNewsNo10...
Abandoning Hinkley Point C now could save consumers billions
The Stop Hinkley Campaign has submitted a joint response, with the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), to the UK Government's call for evidence on Professor Dieter Helm's review of the UK energy market and the financial costs of energy to consumers and businesses.1 The joint submission argues the best way for the Government to keep electricity costs to consumers as low as possible over the coming decades, while reducing carbon emissions, and providing secure electricity supplies, is to cancel Hinkley Point C, scrap the new nuclear programme, launch a much more comprehensive energy efficiency programme and expand renewable energy ambitions.
The response also notes:
- Cancelling Hinkley Point C now might incur a cancellation cost of around £2bn, but consumers could save around £50bn over its lifetime.2
- Offshore wind is already approaching half the cost of nuclear power and Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts costs will drop a further 71% by 2040.
- Removing the current block on onshore wind could save consumers around £1bn.
- Solar power is expected to be the cheapest source of energy (not just electricity) anywhere in the world by 2030 or 2040.
- Cost-effective investments in domestic energy efficiency between now and 2035 could save around 140 terawatt hours of energy and save an average of £270 per household per year at current energy prices. The investments would deliver net benefits worth £7.5bn to the UK.
- Renewables could soon be producing enough electricity to power the grid from April to October. If the Government continues with the nuclear programme then Ministers will have to explain to consumers why they are having to pay for expensive nuclear electricity when cheap renewables are being turned off.
Stop Hinkley spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said: "The cost of renewables is declining rapidly, and it is becoming increasingly clear that there are lots of ways of dealing with intermittency issues. It now looks as though Hinkley Point C won't be online before 2027. Several financial institutions have predicted that large centralised power stations are likely to be obsolete within 10 to 20 years, because they are too big and inflexible, and are "not relevant" for future electricity. So Hinkley Point C and the rest of the UK's ill-conceived new nuclear programme will be too late, too expensive and too problematic. Wind and solar are cheaper more flexible and much quicker to build. It is time to cancel Hinkley Point C now before consumers are saddled with a needless bill for £50bn not to mention the nuclear waste which we still don't know what to do with."
2. Emeritus Professor Steve Thomas, 'Time to Cancel Hinkley Point C', www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Time-to-Cancel-...
New 'controllable renewable energy plant' competitive with nuclear power
Abridged from Energy Post Weekly:
Eastern European countries that are considering building new nuclear plants could also opt for building "controllable renewable energy plants", according to a new study from Berlin-based consultancy Energy Brainpool commissioned by Greenpeace Energy. The two options are comparable in cost, according to the study.
A "controllable renewable energy plant" consists of a combination of wind/solar power with a power-to-gas facility and gas turbine. The power-to-gas facility and gas turbine act as a backup when there is no power available from wind or sun. This addresses the key shortcoming of intermittent renewable energy. In the concept the gas turbine is fully powered by electrolysis-gas, so the installation is fossil-fuel-free.
Currently, nuclear power projects in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are all still in the planning phase:
- Hungary is planning two new reactors with a total capacity of 2,400 MW to be finished in 2026.
- The Czech Republic is also planning the construction of two new reactors, also 1,200 MW each, at the existing Temelin and Dukovany sites.
- Slovakia wants to replace its Bohunice reactor (1,200 MW) in the mid-2020s and is already building two small new reactors, Mochovce 3 and 4 (total 900 MW), which are supposed to come online this year and the next. Slovakia is also planning a new plant at Kecerovce (1,200 MW).
- Poland, which does not have any nuclear plants at the moment, also has plans for a new nuclear power plant of 3,000 MW which should go online in 2029, but this is in the pre-development phase, with no location chosen yet.
The study presents detailed estimates of the costs of both options. For the nuclear power plants, it includes budgeted costs of the new Flamanville plant which is being built by EDF in France, and the subsidy awarded to Hinkley Point C, also to be built by EDF.
The study notes that the budgeted costs for nuclear power are probably too low. Taking Flamanville and Hinkley Point C as more realistic estimates, the controllable renewable energy plants are comparable in price, except in Slovakia. It further adds that financing conditions for renewable energy are quite difficult at the moment. If better conditions could be realized, e.g. through EU intervention, costs would go down significantly.
The study concludes that controllable renewable energy plants are a good alternative for new nuclear plants: "With comparable costs, this kind of system produces electricity with the same consistent security of supply, high energy independence, and minimal effect on the climate." These systems are also more flexible and more scalable and imply no dependence on Russian technology or materials.
Energy Post Weekly, 8 May 2018, 'New "controllable renewable energy plant" – it's "competitive with nuclear power"', https://energypostweekly.eu/may-8-2018-watch/#section_1
Energy Brainpool, April 2018, 'Controllable Renewable Energies: An Alternative to Nuclear Power Cost Comparisons for Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary', www.greenpeace-energy.de/fileadmin/docs/pressematerial/Hinkley_Point/201...