Italy to reverse policy and build nuclear power stations: minister

The Italian government has said it will begin building new nuclear power stations, reversing a 20-year ban in an initiative likely to spark strong resistance and take a long time to come to fruition.

“During the term of this parliament, we will lay the first stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear power stations,” announced Economic Development Minister Claudio Scajola.

“Only nuclear power stations can produce energy on a large scale, in a secure way at competitive costs and one that respects the environment.”

A decision to abandon nuclear power was taken in a 1987 referendum following the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986. The country’s four nuclear plants operating at the time were gradually shut down one by one until, in 1990, none were operational.

Fulvio Conti, head of Italy’s principal power group Enel, said his company was “technically ready” to take part in the initiative. “It’s a good start on the part of the government, which confirms the need to diversify (energy) sources and to invest in infrastructure,” he said.

Setback for French nuclear development

EDF has been ordered to halt work temporarily on its new nuclear power station after France’s nuclear safety watchdog ruled that it had failed to address deficiencies in quality controls.

The Nuclear Safety Authority (NSA) said it had detected anomalies in the reinforcement of concrete for the 1600 MW EPR reactor being built at Flamanville in northern France.

Although the anomalies are said to pose no threat to safety, EDF has been ordered to prepare an action plan to resolve the quality issues and address continuing weaknesses in its surveillance of the works and its suppliers.

The NSA rejected these allegations saying that the EPR technology is safe and that this was just an issue of the way the work was organized.

Offshore wind costs set to soar

The construction of offshore wind farms is becoming more costly, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA).

The study found that the capital cost of offshore turbines is likely to increase by a fifth in the next two to three years, from €2300 ($4600) per kilowatt to €2800.

This would make it “more challenging” to meet the target proposed by the European Commission of generating 20 per cent of the bloc’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Turbine prices have already risen by about 30 per cent in recent years.

EU compromises over utility transmission asset break-ups

European Union energy ministers have reached an agreement that will spare big electricity and gas companies from being forced to divest themselves of their transmission assets.

Many EU members wanted a full unbundling of distribution networks in order to move the EU closer to fully open and competitive energy markets, aimed at delivering fair pricing and encouraging investment. This position was strongly opposed by French and German energy companies.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said: “All member states have shown a great deal of goodwill to reach a compromise that is acceptable to all.” Britain’s Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks welcomed the deal as “real improvement in the way energy markets function across the EU.”

The agreement allows governments to decide whether to force companies to part with their distribution networks or allow them to keep their transmission lines under strict conditions. In the later case, the company would have to establish a transmission operator that would enjoy a “high level of autonomy” over management and investment decisions.

Austria alarmed by Slovenian nuclear incident

The handling of a water leak at a nuclear power plant in southeastern Slovenia has been slammed by neighbouring Austria. Josef Proell, Austrian environment minister, said his government had serious doubts about Slovenia’s atomic warning system following the leakage at the country’s only nuclear plant.

Proell said that Slovenia had initially said that the leak was just an exercise. The plant was shutdown several hours after the incident occurred and Slovenian environmental minister Janez Podobnik was later forced to admit that his country’s nuclear watchdog had made a mistake. He insisted that no nuclear materials were released into the atmosphere.

Vattenfall plans 500 MW CCS plant

Vattenfall is to build a demonstration plant for CCS technology at one of the 500 MW blocks of the conventional lignite power plant Jänschwalde in the State of Brandenburg, Germany.

The demonstration plant is estimated to cost around €1bn and will be in full-scale operation no later than 2015. The Jänschwalde lignite power plant consists of six 500 MW blocks.

For the demonstration plant, one of the blocks, consisting of two boilers, will be equipped with CCS. The pilot will have an installed capacity of 30 MW.

Czech Republic: RWE Innogy has acquired six wind energy projects in the Czech Republic with a total capacity of 100 MW from project developers Aufwind Energie and AFE Bohemia and expects to carry out construction between 2009 and 2011.

Czech Republic: Japan’s Itochu Corporation plans to spend at least Yen110bn ($1.05bn) to develop solar farms in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria with two or three solar parks planned for construction this year at a cost of Yen 10bn.

Czech Republic: German utility E.ON and mining company Czech Coal are expected to halt negotiations over a joint venture coal fired plant in the northern part of the Czech Republic, following a dispute between Czech Coal and state power utility CEZ over coal supplies.

Germany: Areva’s Transmission and Distribution division has inaugurated a new €6m ($9.3m) production hall of its Power Transformer Plant located in Düsseldorf, doubling its production capacity.

Germany: Gazprom and E.ON Ruhrgas have set up a working group to pursue their project to build a 1200 MW gas turbine power station in the German city of Lubmin, which will use gas supplied through the planned Nord Stream gas pipeline.

Norway: StatoilHydro is to build the world’s first deepwater floating wind turbine next year off Norway’s coast. It plans to attach the floating turbine to the top of a buoy, using technology similar to that of offshore oil and gas platforms.

Spain: GE Energy is to supply an 840 MW turnkey combined-cycle power station to Endesa Generacion to be located in Sant Adria del Besos, serving the power needs of the city of Barcelona. The plant will be operational by the first quarter of 2010 and replaces two liquid fired power plants.

UK: The UK’s Drax Group and Alstom have signed a deal worth £50m ($100m) to build the main processing works for a 1.5m tonnes per year biomass co-firing facility to be constructed at the 4000 MW Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire.

Ukraine: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has received successive orders for M701F gas turbines for power plants in the Ukraine and Turkey.