Almost three years on from the disaster at Fukushima, which caused a global pause for the nuclear industry and drove Germany to quit the sector altogether, is the nuclear renaissance back on track?
Leon Flexman, Head of Communications, Horizon Nuclear Power
Has the nuclear industry emerged from the cloud of Fukushima? In parts yes, and in other parts, no. In the US and UK, and in the Far East and Middle East there are strong pockets of optimism, and projects that are getting underway. Equally, you only have to look at Germany to see where the opposite is true.
Fukushima has obviously had an impact on the overall pace of newbuild and attitudes to nuclear in general, but that said, it hasn’t brought an end to the nuclear renaissance.
But it has been a very sobering episode that has made sure that everybody proceeds on the basis of the lessons learned.
Keith Parker, Chief Executive, Nuclear Industry Association
Whilst the accident at Fukushima caused some countries to pause and reflect on their newbuild plans, the reality is that most countries are continuing with their programmes.
It will take time to rebuild trust in Japan, and a political decision in Germany was taken to accelerate the planned nuclear phase-out.
In the UK the government rejected any knee-jerk political response and instead commissioned the independent chief nuclear inspector Dr. Mike Weightman to review what happened and consider its implications for the United Kingdom.
Dr. Weightman’s review subsequently concluded that UK stations were safe and there were no fundamental weaknesses in the UK licensing regime.
He also made a series of recommendations that the industry is implementing.
Worldwide more than 60 nuclear reactors are currently being constructed in 13 countries, notably China, South Korea and Russia. Nuclear energy provides continuous, carbon free power, which will play an increasingly vital role in light of efforts to tackle air pollution and climate change in an energy-hungry world.
Brian Cowell, Director of Nuclear Operations, EDF Energy
The earthquake and tsunami that devastated vast coastal areas of Japan will have a lasting influence on the nuclear industry.
The safety margins in place for extreme natural events on existing plants have been reviewed in all countries and improved where necessary, and new reactor designs will reflect learning from the Japanese experience.
At EDF Energy, we’ve committed a considerable amount of resources to ensuring we’ve implemented the lessons learned from Fukushima. Working with industry specialists and regulators, EDF Energy has completed a comprehensive review of the resilience of its eight nuclear sites to extreme natural events.
We have also reviewed our emergency response facilities, our interactions with the public and other key stakeholders in our local communities and beyond.
Immediately following the event in Japan, EDF Energy set up its own Japan Earthquake Response Programme to review and, where appropriate, enhance the capability of the company’s nuclear plants to withstand and recover from extreme natural events.
This has resulted in some plant modifications to increase margins to extreme storms or flooding. We have provided a variety of specialist back-up equipment stored in central locations, which ensure fast and reliable recovery from the loss of electrical power and cooling capability caused by an extreme event. It includes a new fleet of specialist vehicles, on standby, ready to move people and equipment as required. As part of our commitment to being open and transparent, one of the key initiatives has been the opening of visitor centres at each of EDF Energy’s nuclear sites. Since opening, more than 26,000 people have visited the centres, with around half of those also taking a site tour.
The industry has responded professionally to the events in Japan. We are an industry that encourages sharing of the lessons from any event however large or small so that we can learn and respond appropriately. As an industry we have individual and collective responsibility to ensure we deliver the benefits of nuclear technology safely, while maintaining public trust and confidence by being open and transparent.
Patrick Fragman, Senior Vice-President, Nuclear Business, Alstom
Fukushima – in conjunction with the global economic crises and the energy market evolution – has had a considerable effect on the development of nuclear energy. It is likely that its effects will be felt for years to come.
Certainly Fukushima saw public concern over nuclear power safety intensify worldwide. However, most countries with or planning nuclear programmes favoured a slowdown rather than complete cessation, and nuclear continues to represent a major energy source, supplying about 14 per cent of the world’s electricity, and 21 per cent in OECD countries.
The announcement of the first nuclear power station to be built in Europe since Fukushima – Hinkley Point C in the UK – suggests a positive future. In France, the 1600 MW unit at Flamanville should be operating from 2016, with a second possibly to follow it at Penly.
The success of the Chinese nuclear programme can be measured against new plants such as Ling Ao, Hongyanghe, Ningde or Taishan. Of countries with no existing nuclear capacity, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have already placed orders for nuclear units to be built in the next few years.
At Alstom, we continue to actively pursue all upcoming opportunities in nuclear energy. We continue to see interest in nuclear from the markets mentioned above and we follow these developments closely.
The core benefits of nuclear energy – in terms of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, competitiveness of electricity production and security of supply – still apply.For these reasons overall nuclear capacity is expected to grow in the coming years to meet rising electricity demands as the move to low-carbon energy sources continues.
Jong Kyun Park, Director, Division of Nuclear Power, IAEA
As of 10 January, there are 438 nuclear reactors operating in the world. Total global capacity, which had fallen from 375 GW at the end of 2010 to 369 GW at the end of 2011, has since gradually risen to 374.3 GW today.
Over the past two years, an upwards trend in the number of new reactors can be seen. Having dropped from 16 in 2010 to four in 2011, construction starts increased to six in 2012 and reached ten in 2013. As many as 71 reactors were under construction as of 10 January, the highest number since 1989. As in previous years, Asia, particularly China, remains the focus of expansion and of near and long-term growth prospects. Indeed, of those 71 reactors, 47 are in Asia. Similarly, 43 of the last 53 new reactors to be connected to the grid since 2000 are also in Asia.
Thirty countries in the world already operate nuclear plants. About the same number of countries are considering including nuclear in their energy mix. In July 2012, the United Arab Emirates became the first country in 27 years to start building its first nuclear plant, Barakah-1. This trend continued in 2013 with the start of construction of Belarusian-1, in Belarus.
Every year, the IAEA makes low and high projections of global nuclear generating capacity. Last year’s low projection indicates 17 per cent growth by 2030, while the high projection suggests a 94 per cent growth. Yet, these figures are lower than were projected in 2012 or 2011. In other words, growth in nuclear power following Fukushima is expected to continue, however at a rate slower than estimated prior to the accident.
Tarik Choho, Chief Commercial Executive Officer, AREVA
There is no doubt that the impact of Fukushima has been significant, and there are still some challenges that lis ahead for the industry. However, there is no question that the nuclear energy perspectives remain solid.
Nuclear growth has been confirmed by the International Energy Agency. As in many other aspects of the global economy, the biggest growth will be driven by Asia, where half of the new constructions are expected to be built.
This growth will continue because, with or without Fukushima, our world faces the same challenges. If development remains at the current pace, by 2050 our planet will need twice as much energy as today. To meet this demand, any new sources must deal with increasingly complex expectations: competitiveness, job creation, climate change, control of energy consumption and security of supply. Nuclear meets all these criteria.
The future growth is visible with major newbuild programmes being launched in Asia and in the Middle East, as well as Europe.
In the more mature nuclear markets, this growth will also be fed by significant life extension programmes. Two-thirds of today’s reactors are over 25 years old, and in the next ten years, no less than 150 reactors will be operated following a license renewal. Utilities are also looking at extending the life of their reactors which are valuable assets that already provide baseload, low carbon energy.
This growth will mean addressing certain challenges, with the priority for the industry to reaffirm safety.
For new plants, this has meant an accelerated move towards Generation III standards, which are becoming the common reference. For existing plants, it has meant providing solutions to reinforce safety.
The mobilisation of the nuclear industry and the safety authorities to act on the lessons learned from the accident at Fukushima and perform stress-tests has been exemplary.
While the nuclear industry has faced unprecedented challenges in the last three years, it has bounced back stronger through a remarkable co-operation to address new safety requirements throughout the industry worldwide and to propose innovative solutions for new plants and the existing nuclear fleet.
Nuclear energy is back on track, and its path includes very positive growth perspectives through new constructions and life extension of the existing plants. All of this must be done while continuing to promote the highest level of safety.
Power Engineering International Archives
View Power Generation Articles on PennEnergy.com