Joining the nuclear club


Dozens of nations in all four corners of the globe are queuing up to join the nuclear club. A report commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Environment looks at their prospects.


Graphical representation of CANDU and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL)’s ACR-1000 nuclear power plant Source: ACEL

Numerous countries have expressed interest in nuclear power in recent years. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 12 new countries are actively preparing for nuclear power and a further 38 countries have indicated an interest in the possible introduction of a nuclear power plant. Of these 51 countries, 17 are from the Middle East to the Pacific, 13 are from Africa, 11 are European and nine are in Latin America.

Of 38 potential nuclear newcomer countries listed by the World Nuclear Association, 15 do not have nuclear experience at the research-reactor level and 20 have an electricity grid that is smaller than 10 GW, which the IAEA considers to be the maximum capacity of an additional unit of any type in order to prevent grid interface problems.

But what are the prospects of a nuclear power programme in these countries, so many of which have little practical experience of nuclear power? A report commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety, World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2009, examined these countries’ plans.

Only one newcomer country, Iran, is already in the process of building a nuclear power plant. France, having created Agence France Nucléaire International, has been particularly active in negotiating new nuclear trade or cooperation agreements with potential newcomer countries.

Agreements have been signed or are under negotiation with French companies in Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In addition, interest in nuclear energy has been demonstrated by Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, and Yemen. In Asia, potential candidates for French atomic business include Thailand and Vietnam.

The US government has also been active; signing a nuclear agreement with the UAE and memoranda of understanding on nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, while China, Russia and South Korea are said to have offered assistance to Bangladesh to build a nuclear power plant.

In Europe, Albania and Croatia are discussing the possibility of building a joint nuclear plant, inviting Montenegro and Bosnia to join the project. The Italian utility Enel has said it is ready to conduct a feasibility study into building a nuclear plant in Albania. In February 2009, Enel announced the launch of Enel Albania with the Confederation of Albanian Industries to build an 800 MW coal fired power plant, with a “very long-term” view to build nuclear reactors.

Australia is a large uranium producer but the introduction of nuclear power always faced significant controversy. A December 2006 report to the prime minister, the Switkowski Report, suggested the rapid introduction of a nuclear power programme in the country. An international panel of experts, including three of the authors of this report, concluded that the report was highly biased and that the targets were unrealistic.

Any significant follow-up over the coming 20 years in industrial terms is highly unlikely. Switkowski acknowledged in March 2009 that once the people accepted nuclear power it would be at least another 15 years before a reactor could be built. In fact, the current Australian government will put that timeframe even further back. As Martin Ferguson, minister for Resources and Energy stated, the Australian government has a clear policy of prohibiting the development of an Australian nuclear power industry.

In Belarus, there are plans to build a nuclear power plant at Astravets, located 45 km from Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius. Russia’s Atomstroyexport will act as the contractor to build the plant, supplying Generation III VVER-1000 type reactors. The first reactor of the nuclear power plant is expected to be operational between 2016-17, and the second one by 2020. The first two reactors will have the combined capacity of approximately 2000 MW, and it is possible that two additional reactors will be built by 2025.

In November 2007, the Chilean president asked the energy minister to look into the nuclear power option. A modest effort seems ongoing, as in 2009 the government allocated CP$430 million ($665 000) to study nuclear power. Even such a minor expenditure raised significant criticism by the environmental community in the country. There are no short or medium-term prospects for a nuclear power programme.

In Egypt, it is already 35 years since the first nuclear power plant was proposed. The plan never materialized. More recently Egypt signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia and China. In December 2008, the government announced that it had selected the US company Bechtel (later transferred to Worley Parsons) to provide assistance in selecting a reactor provider and to train staff. A 1000 MW plant is planned for start-up by 2017.

Nuclear power projects in Indonesia have a 20-year history. In 1989, the National Atomic Energy Agency (BATAN) carried out the first studies, while in 2007 the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) agreed to develop a new feasibility study for two 1000 MW reactors. Cooperation agreements were also signed with Japan and Russia. Indonesia’s minister for Research and Technology was quoted in March 2008 as stating that the country would need four 1200 MW units by 2025 and that the first one was to go online by 2016.

No call for tender has been announced yet. The nuclear plans have raised concerns and protests because of intense volcanic and earthquake activity in the areas envisaged to host a plant, in particular in Central Java. There is little prospect for near or medium-term nuclear power plant operation and no target dates have been announced.

Israel has developed a full-scale nuclear weapons programme and thus has strong nuclear capabilities. Several arguments speak against a short and medium-term nuclear power programme in the country. With a grid size of just 10 GW, a nuclear plant would be clearly oversized, according to IAEA guidelines. The country has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is therefore technically isolated.

The Berlusconi government has introduced legislation that paves the way for the reintroduction of nuclear power in Italy. Four European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) could be built with construction beginning as early as 2013, under an agreement signed in February 2009 by the French utility EDF and the largest Italian utility Enel. Italy is the only country that shutdown its nuclear programme after the Chernobyl accident in 1986 and a referendum in 1987 reinforced the decision.

Four operational reactors and four units under construction were abandoned and no nuclear electricity was generated after 1987. Twenty years later, Italy continues to face significant decommissioning and waste management costs. There is no final repository for high-level waste and the public remains hostile. That said, Italy had built up a significant nuclear industry and still has a strong nuclear lobby.

In 2009, the Italian government said the new programme of four EPRs would comprise of two in the north of the country, one in the centre of Italy and a further reactor in the southern part of the country. No locations have yet been identified. In October 2009, ten Italian regions, the first being Calabria, said they would appeal against the government’s plans to reintroduce atomic energy. Notably, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Lombardy have not opposed the scheme.

Meanwhile, Enel has announced plans to invest in nuclear plants outside the country, in particular in the Slovak Mochovce plant and the Flamanville 3 unit in France.

In September 2009, Jordan announced the launch of a site feasibility study by GDF Suez (Tractebel) for the country’s first nuclear power plant, located approximately 12 km to the east of the Aqaba coastline. The plant, expected to initially generate 750 MW to 1110 MW, is scheduled to be operational by 2020.

The following month, the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) signed an $11.3m contract that will see Worley Parsons guide the pre-construction consultancy services for the plant. JAEC and Worley Parsons will select the technology for two new nuclear reactors to be constructed and developed in parallel from five reactor designs: AECL’s Candu-6, Areva’s EPR, KEPCO’s APR-1400 and two Russian designs.

Kuwait announced plans in March 2009 to set up a national nuclear energy commission and has introduced draft legislation to achieve this. The country is in the very early stages of designing a possible nuclear power policy. With only 11 GW, its grid is very small. Applications in the short and medium-term are unlikely.

A draft of Malaysia’s national nuclear energy policy was completed in October 2009, but nuclear energy is just an option to generate electricity beyond 2020 the state parliament was told. The Indian nuclear industry has stated that it would be ready to assist Malaysia in developing a nuclear power programme, if there is a genuine interest, as nuclear power production is a long-term commitment.

In Norway, a government-appointed committee recommended in February 2008 that the potential contribution of nuclear energy to a sustainable energy future should be recognized. Norway does not have a nuclear power generation programme, but the OECD Halden Reactor Project, established in 1958, is one of the world’s longest running international research collaborations, with 20 countries participating. There is one further research reactor at Kjeller.

The Philippines abandoned a nuclear power project in the past. A 600 MW Westinghouse reactor, Bataan-1, was ordered in 1974 and building began in 1976. hOWEVER, The nearly complete project was abandoned by the incoming Aquino government days after the Chernobyl accident. However, payments continued until 2007. In February 2008, the IAEA visited the site at the request of the Philippine government. There have been successive attempts by members of Congress to introduce bills mandating the rehabilitation of the plan, the latest in December 2008.

The power plant site is close to an earthquake prone zone and the dormant Pinatubo Volcano. Considering the disastrous experience with the initial investment, the absence of an appropriate nuclear framework and significant opposition against the project in the country, it seems unlikely to go ahead.

Poland ordered five Russian designed reactors between 1974 and 1982. Work started on two units at Zarnowiec but all orders were officially cancelled by 1990. The current Polish government has revived the nuclear plans and stated that the first reactor should be operational by 2020. The state-owned power utility PGE announced plans in January 2009 to build two 3000 MW plants in the country.

Poland has joined the Lithuanian Energy Organization (LEO) alongside Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania with the project of a Baltic plant in the Lithuanian town of Visaginas. On 8 December 2009, Lithuania launched a tender for the plant and negotiations should be finalized by the end of 2010. The project is expected to be ready by 2018-2020 and is due to cost €3-5 billion ($4-$7 billion).

In 2004, the Portuguese government rejected a proposal to introduce nuclear power and public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to nuclear power. Portugal does not have a nuclear power generation programme, but it does have a 1 MW open core pool-type reactor that reached criticality in 1961. Portugal is said to be reviewing a nuclear project that could serve Spain as well. However, in the past the government has rejected nuclear proposals and Spain has currently a firm nuclear phase-out policy.

In Thailand, there have been nuclear power plans since the 1970s, none of which ever materialized. However, Thailand recently revived plans for the construction of four nuclear reactors with a total of 4000 MW coming online between 2020 and 2021.

The Hongyanhe nuclear power plant near Dalian City in the Liaoning Province of China. Under construction by Areva, the first of six CPR-1000 reactors is due to start operation in 2012 Source: L3 MAPPS


In November 2009, state utility EGAT signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese state-owned China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPG) and CLP Holdings, under which they agreed to a knowledge and information exchange on nuclear power technology over the next three years. CGNPG has developed its own nuclear power technology over the past decade including the CPR-1000 pressurized water reactor, co-developed with Areva of France.

Turkey is the one of the few potential newcomer countries that has already launched a call for tender for new-build nuclear. In September 2008, it received only one offer, from the Russian Atomstroyexport (ASE), amongst the six potential bidders. In principle, the procedure had to go back to the starting point because Turkish law does not allow for the attribution of such a contract if there is only one bidder.

However, negotiations continued around the offer from the Russian consortium, which includes ASE, Inter RAO UES and the Turkish company Park Teknik. The bid, based on the build own operate model, covers the construction of four 1200 MW AES-2006 VVER reactors to be built near Mersin in the Akkuyu district.

The initial Russian offer was to sell the power from the to-be-built plant at a price that would represent more than three times the current wholesale power price in Turkey. A revised offer would still be more than double current wholesale levels. However, Akkuyu was the location of an earlier abandoned nuclear project that was based on a 100 per cent pre-financing scheme which still failed.

In November 2009, the Turkish Electricity Trading and Contracting Company (TETAS) cancelled the 2008 tender, reportedly unhappy with the high generation price offered by ASE, which initially offered a rate of $0.21 per kW/h generation, but then adjusted it downward to $0.153 ” still more than twice the country’s current wholesale prices. However, the Turkish energy ministry has already begun plans to restart the tender for the Akkuyu plant, and launch a second tender to build and operate a nuclear power plant in Sinop on the Black Sea in 2010.

In March 2008, UAE, following recommendations by the IAEA, approved a plan to establish the Nuclear Energy Programme Implementation Organization (NEPIO) and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) to develop nuclear legislation. In December 2009, a South Korean consortium was awarded a contract worth $20 billion to build four nuclear power plants in the emirate having reportedly made a highly competitive bid.


The group, led by the KEPCO, beat bids from GE-Hitachi and Areva. As well as KEPCO, the winning consortium includes Samsung, Hyundai and Doosan Heavy Industries, as well as US firm Westinghouse and Japan’s Toshiba. The nuclear reactors should all be in operation by 2020, by which time demand for electricity in the UAE is expected to have more than doubled. The first is scheduled to begin supplying power in 2017.

Venezuela passed a decree on the development of a domestic nuclear industry as early as 1975, but it never went on to develop a nuclear power programme. In September 2008, President Chavez declared an interest in developing nuclear energy for medical purposes and to generate electricity. Russia and France have offered assistance in building up a nuclear programme. However, apparently there are no concrete decisions or plans yet.

Vietnam’s National Assembly approved in November 2009 a ‘draft law on nuclear energy’ to facilitate the building of the country’s first nuclear power stations, with the first due to start construction in 2014. The draft law on nuclear electricity sets out that nuclear should initially account for less than five per cent of Vietnam’s electricity production, but by 2050 should meet as much as 30 per cent of power needs.

According to the government’s plans, at least one reactor should be operational from 2020. Together, the four reactors should have a capacity of 4000 MW. The intention is to meet the energy needs of an economy that is growing annually by an average of 15 per cent. Construction of the first plant, with a capacity of 2000 MW, is expected to be completed within six years. The assembly has not yet decided the timing for the start of construction of the second plant, which is to be located in the central province of Ninh Thuan, some 354 km north of Ho Chi Minh City.

Very few of the potential newcomer countries have proper nuclear regulations, an independent regulator, domestic maintenance capacity and the skilled workforce in place to run a nuclear plant. Despite the undoubted potential expansion of the nuclear power club, it remains unlikely that any of the potential new nuclear countries can implement fission power programmes without an appropriate technical, political, legal and economic framework.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2009 was co-ordinated by Mycle Schneider, independent consultant, Mycle Schneider Consulting, France, and was co-authored by Steve Thomas, professor for Energy Policy, Greenwich University, UK, Antony Froggatt, a UK-based independent consultant, and Doug Koplow, director of Earth Track, USA.


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