Tried and trusted reference plants the way forward for nuclear

The nuclear power industry ought to stick to proven plant designs to negotiate its development in the short term and needs to seriously address its public perception. Those were some of the key consensual points at a forum on the status and future of the industry at POWER-GEN Europe in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Brian Allan, Managing Director, QSI Consultancy Group in the United Arab Emirates, in response to a question on what countries developing new build nuclear reactors should take into account, told power executives, “I have worked on projects in Finland and the UAE and with project execution there is not much difference in building a plant in EU and in Middle East. The real differences come down to circumstances. Flamanville is a first of a kind plant and because of the nature of that design, this is principally why that’s gone three times over budget and over time.”
EDF Flamanville
“But in the UAE they have the benefit of their vendor’s reference plants in Korea. These are lighter, smaller project units compared to European Pressurised Reactors (EPR). Because there is a reference plant, the UAE will get the benefit of the learning curve ” the choice of vendor and unit very important but any first time owner would be advised to look for a reference plant.”

As if to highlight the pitfalls of gambling on a new, unproven, design, Jukka Laaksonen of Rusatom Overseas, Finland said the Finnish experience with Olikuoto was telling.

“Prior to award the vendor said the design existed but it was only a principle design- when they got the contract it took them two years to be in a position to start the first buildings, so the risk factor was lost. The French supplier had also never faced a real regulatory process.”

The session, entitled ‘Nuclear Power in Europe ” Where do we stand and what’s next?’ also saw much discussion around what was seen as the industry’s self-inflicted damage in terms of how it is perceived from the standpoint of safety.

Malcolm Grimston, Senior Research Fellow, Imperial College London, told delegates, that nuclear power had become needlessly expensive and so much of the growing costs involved were down to unnecessarily frightening the public with ill-thought out, counter-productive safety messages. à‚ 

“The problem we have is that if the public look at the industry consistently going on about safety it must be because its unsafe.”

“I bet far more children have died from Lego than from nuclear power. Therefore should Lego manufacturers take out full page adverts saying only a handful of children have choked on Lego?

“Of course that would have the opposite effect than what was intended. People would end up being more scared. Meanwhile there were full page adverts in the British press in the 80s, with an assumption that talking about safety was a good thing.”

Grimston said the industry was suffering from its persistent, ongoing safety strategy despite, for example the Fukushima incident being no more harmful than ‘in industrial terms a leak from an oil tanker.’

In further reference to the Japanese incident he said that non-radiological issues led to most of the devastation associated with that incident, particularly the evacuation process from the area

“The public has an irrational fear of nuclear plant radiation yet there is evidence that there is more radiation problems connected to medical centres, and there is no phobia of those facilities.”

Grimston concurred with the rationale that the industry would do well to negotiate the next years with proven technology for the most part, in the light of financially disastrous new generation design setbacks. “It’s a simple decision,” he said. “Even the Chinese are having trouble with new designs. The reactor designs used pre 2000s have worked well, and those after have not. We should be building plants we can afford to or none at all.”

Tom Jones, Vice President of Business Development, Clean Energy at Amec Foster Wheeler said he was confident that the UK could lead the way in bringing a renaissance in new nuclear despite the issues with reference plants for the UK’s main vendor EDF in Finland and France. He said that regardless of present experience it ‘is important we can do these things to time and cost’ adding that Hitachi may end up taking the lead role.

Jones also told Power Engineering International that his view was that a possible Austrian objection to the Commission decision to facilitate Hinkley Point C would not materialise, or indeed threaten the project. He said the next step in the project would be the Final Investment Decision (FID), with the Chinese state visit to the UK in the Autumn expected to be highly influential in moving the process on to the next phase.

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