News February 2016

29 February 2016

Hinkley

Senior figures at EDF are pushing to delay final approval for the £18bn Hinkley Point nuclear reactor for up to a year as the company seeks new investors for the project. The long-delayed scheme to build the first in a wave of nuclear power stations in the UK has been awaiting a final investment decision from the French utility company for months. EDF has said repeatedly that approval for the plant in Somerset, in the west of England, is “imminent”. Jean-Bernard Lévy, chief executive, said last week the decision was “very close”. But two people involved said it could be delayed until next year. According to one person close to the company, some directors are pushing EDF to find other investors before giving the go-ahead so that it will not have to take the full liabilities on to its balance sheet. French rules dictate that the company must consolidate the debt for Hinkley if it owns more than 50 per cent of the scheme. Under a deal struck with CGN, the Chinese state-owned nuclear company, EDF owns 66.5 per cent of the project but it wants to offload a portion to avoid taking on the extra debt. While Mr Lévy has said that he hopes to bring in other investors after taking the final investment decision, others on the board say it should do so as a prerequisite, a process likely to last into 2017. One person close to the company said: “EDF is very concerned about its [A-grade] credit rating, and so is desperate to offload a share of this project.” One person close to the deal in Paris said: “Many people on the board don’t even want it to go ahead and at the very least they want to see that there is a working EPR out there first. I honestly can’t see the final investment decision coming until next year.” Deepa Venkateswaran, an analyst at Bernstein, said: “From EDF’s perspective, the more delay, the better. The problem is that they have previously said it would take 10 years between the final investment decision and completion of the project.”

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Posted: 29 February 2016

28 February 2016

Terror

New weapons, unstable nations, and terrorism are raising the nuclear stakes. Is a doomsday attack more likely? Here’s everything you need to know about the new nuclear arms race. Could terrorists acquire a nuke? It’s possible. Between 1995 and 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency catalogued 2,200 attempts to steal or smuggle uranium. ISIS’s propaganda magazine has suggested buying a nuclear weapon in Pakistan and smuggling it into the U.S. Nuclear experts warn that an improvised device could be fitted into an SUV-size shipping container. Ports and airports are fitted with radiation sensors, but they only work at very close range. Another potential threat is a “dirty bomb” — a regular explosive device that would spray radioactive material over a blast zone, exposing thousands of people to radiation and turning an entire city into an uninhabitable ghost town. Authorities in Iraq are now searching for a sizable quantity of “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year, which theoretically could wind up in the hands of ISIS.

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Posted: 28 February 2016

27 February 2016

Hinkley

DOES the government need a ‘Plan B’ for Hinkley C? The Green Party’s MEP for the South West Dr Molly Scott Cato certainly thinks so. Following news last week that French energy firm EDF reported a 68 per cent fall in profits and is planning to extend the life of four of its other UK nuclear power stations, Dr Scott Cato thinks now is the time to focus on renewables. The Final Investment Decision had been expected this month but there is still no word from EDF. Dr Scott Cato believes the nation should invest in renewables as an alternative to nuclear, and has commissioned a report over the viability of producing 100 per cent of the region’s energy this way.

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Posted: 27 February 2016

26 February 2016

Hinkley

What’s the (Hinkley) Point? It would be best if Britain’s French nuclear partner threw in the towel. It is symbolic of a “nuclear renaissance” after the failure of a state-run industry that limped along from the 1950s to the 1980s, and equally fraught private ownership during the next two decades. It is meant to show how private investment, with a helpful state behind it, is the best model, giving a renewed lease of life to the nuclear industry, says a new book, “The Fall and Rise of Nuclear Power in Britain”, by Simon Taylor, of Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. Yet as the book witheringly points out, the result would be “the most expensive power station in history”. The projected costs are comparable to those of the Three Gorges power station in China, which has about seven times the planned generating capacity—albeit non-nuclear. They may rise if EDF’s painful experience of building two of the same reactors in Finland and France is any guide. Both those European Pressurised Reactors are years behind schedule and three times over budget; there is even a possibility that the French one, Flamanville 3, will be dismantled. Politics may trump economics; Britain has committed to stringent climate goals, and France would discourage EDF from abandoning Hinkley Point because it would end the dream of a nuclear-export industry. If EDF does pull out, Dieter Helm of Oxford University says the British government has a fallback option: it could float “nuclear bonds” at low interest rates to pay for the project. That, he says, would be cheaper than the 10% annual return that the French would charge.

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Posted: 26 February 2016

25 February 2016

SMRs

The government’s high profile small nuclear reactor R&D programme received a boost today, as the Energy Technology Institute (ETI) unveiled plans for a major new research project to identify the initial steps needed to build pioneering new nuclear technologies in the UK. The government and industry-backed ETI announced it has appointed engineering and management consultancy Decision Analysis Services (DAS) to deliver its £300,000, six-month Small Modular Reactor Deployment Enablers project. The initiative follows a previous ETI project to assess the broad issues and timescales that would need to be addressed to begin a UK small modular reactor (SMR) fleet deployment from 2030 onwards. ETI said the project confirmed there were “still many uncertainties around SMR development in the UK but that progress needs to made across a number of areas from 2016 onwards if the option to include them in the UK’s future energy mix is to be kept open”.

Business Green 24th Feb 2016 read more »

Hinkley

Final Investment Decision on Hinkley Point will be this year.

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Posted: 25 February 2016

24 February 2016

Hinkley

If the UK really wants 3.2GW of ‘baseload’ power in Somerset, then the Hinkley C nuclear power station is not the only way, write Marie-Louise Heddrich, Thorsten Lenck and Carlos Perez Linkenheil. Wind power with ‘wind to gas’ plant and CCGT gas power stations could do the same – faster, cheaper, more flexibily, and at much lower technical and financial risk. electricity is generated by wind turbines. Wind power that is surplus to the HPC’s 3.2GW is used to produce ‘windgas’ by electrolysing water to produce hydrogen, and then using that to produce methane. Natural fluctuations in wind power generationare balanced by windgas (also known as power-to-gas) so that, overall, the same volume of electricity is generated as would be by HPC. In a comparison using the figures from HPC’s current subsidy programme and the present degression defined in Germany’s Renewable Energies Act (EEG), wind power and windgas facilities can replace the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant at a lower cost. If we also take into consideration that Hinkley Point C will not begin operating in 2023 but later due to delays in construction, we can assume that cost savings from using the windgas alternative will be even greater due to improved efficiency and lower costs in windgas technology, and possibly due to gas-fired power plants becoming less expensive. Operations are currently expected to begin in 2025 and not in 2017 as originally planned.

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Posted: 24 February 2016

23 February 2016

AGRs

A new graphite irradiation research program has been launched in support of ageing management of Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs) in the UK. Last week, EDF Energy announced new scheduled closure dates for four of its UK AGR nuclear power plants. AGR reactors feature a graphite moderator and are cooled using carbon dioxide. The graphite blocks cannot be replaced or repaired during the operating life of the reactors. However, radiation damage changes the shape and size of the crystallites that comprise graphite, a process known as dimensional change, which in turn degrades the mechanical properties of the graphite. For continued operation, it is therefore necessary to demonstrate that the graphite can still perform its intended role irrespective of the degradation. EDF Energy – together with Atkins, Frazer Nash and NRG – launched the Blackstone project in 2006. The project aims to simulate accelerated aging of reactor graphite. This involves neutron irradiation at the right temperature combined with simultaneous radiolytic oxidation.

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Posted: 23 February 2016

22 February 2016

Hinkley

Nuclear giant EDF can’t afford to write off the £2 billion sunk into the Hinkley C nuclear plant, write Paul Brown & Oliver Tickell. So its cunning plan is to turn it into a ‘nuclear zombie’ – officially a live project, but actually stone cold dead – until EDF can find a way out of the hole it has dug itself into.

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Posted: 22 February 2016

21 February 2016

Fukushima

The Japanese were kept in the dark from the start of the Fukushima disaster about high radiation levels and their dangers to health, writes Linda Pentz Gunter. In order to proclaim the Fukushima area ‘safe’, the Government increased exposure limits to twenty times the international norm. Soon, many Fukushima refugees will be forced to return home to endure damaging levels of radiation. The media may have played the willing government handmaiden in reassuring the public with falsehoods, but in July 2012, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission concluded that the disaster was really no accident but “man-made”. It came about, the researchers said, as a result of “collusion” between the government, regulators and the nuclear industry, in this case, Tepco.

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Posted: 21 February 2016

20 February 2016

Hinkley

The future of the nuclear industry in Europe took another blow this week when the French state-owned power company EDF again postponed a final decision on whether to build two large nuclear power stations in the UK. Construction will now not start before 2019, the company said. This is the eighth time a “final investment decision” on building two European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPRs) has been postponed because the company has still to secure enough backing to finance the £18 billion (€23.26 bn) project. The excuse this time was that the Chinese New Year celebrations had held up negotiations with the Chinese backers, who have agreed to put up one-third of the money. This date – 2019 for first concrete pour – is a year after the reactors were originally due to be completed. The timetable has gradually slipped backwards. Last year the date for power to start being generated was put back to 2025, but this new date for pouring concrete makes 2030 more likely – if the reactors are built at all. It looks as though EDF is being careful not to begin building another EPR until it can prove the design actually works.This further postponement of a start date for the new reactors leaves the UK government with a gaping hole in its energy policy, despite it offering to pay double the existing price of electricity for the output from Hinkley Point, a subsidy that will continue for 35 years. Continuing to apply for life extensions for old nuclear stations also saves the company from technical bankruptcy. Once a station is closed its decommissioning costs become company liabilities. With the company’s debts already high, it would not take many closures for EDF’s liabilities to exceed its assets.

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Posted: 20 February 2016