Nuclear News Update

The big news, of course, is that Germany has now closed its remaining reactors.  You can see the changes in their energy production and consumption mix at Electricity Maps.  It would be an irrational decision in any case, and under current circumstances seems pretty close to insane.  The good news is that there seems to be a lot of strong negative reaction to the shutdown, coming not only from conservatives and people mainly concerned with the economy, but also from a lot of people who are strong environmentalists and believers in the essentiality of CO2 reductions for climate reasons.  (Here’s a pro-nuclear rally at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany)  It is also interesting that Forbes magazine, a publications which IMO has becomes substantially less impressive and useful in recent years, ran an article responding to the shutdown with the headline Germany Embraces Pseudoscience.

Around the world, there are a lot of very positive things happening with Nuclear.

One of the two new reactors in the  very-long running expansion of the  Vogtle power plant in Georgia, Unit 3,  is operational and connected to the grid. Unit 4 is scheduled to enter service around the turn of the year.  These reactors are Westinghouse AP1000s.

French Members of Parliament voted to eliminate the targeted limit of 50% of energy produced by nuclear, which was passed in 2015 in the name of being ‘green’.  Mark Nelson recalls a righteous rant from 2017 in protest about a plant shutdown that was required by this limit.

In Poland, there are a lot of nuclear projects on the table.  The US is lending the country $4 billion to partially fund the construction of up to 20 Small Modular Reactors, which are projected to be BWRX-300s from the GE-Hitachi joint venture.  However, it appears that the first plant in Poland to go operational will be a large plant based on Westinghouse AP1000s.

Here is a spreadsheet of the potential Polish nuclear projects, with the customers, reactor types, and estimated timing.

A major problem with nuclear, and a reason often given for taking a dismissive attitude toward this energy source, is the length of time require to build new plants.  An example of a nuclear project accomplished on a considerably better than typical schedule is the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in the United Arab Emerates.  The link (twitter) describes the approach that was taken; there’s also a video interview with Mohammed Al Hammadi, CEO of Emirates Nuclear. Looks interesting–I watched the first 15 minutes so far–Al Hammadi is an EE and started out as an engineer doing power network design. The reactors in this plant are based on a Westinghouse design and fabricated and installed by a Korean company.

Attitudes are changing toward nuclear in Denmark.

A large nuclear plant in Egypt is being constructed by Russia, with 85% of the cost ($28 billion) paid for via a loan from that country.

4.2 GW of nuclear capacity under consideration in Bulgaria.

Nuclear plant construction costs by country, over time.  (at Twitter)

Attitudes toward nuclear in Germany, by age range. (also at Twitter)  Compare these numbers with those from the same poll, two years ago (in the comments)…attitudes have become more positive. Will the politicians listen?

A deal among GE-Hitachi Nuclear, the TVA, and the Polish company Synthos Green Energy, involving GEH’s small modular reactors.

NuScale Power, which is focused on Small Modular Reactors, has placed an order for long leadtime materials with Doosan Enerbility of Korea.  The initial modules are for a project of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, targeted to be in commercial operation as early as 2029.

But also, some not-so-favorable news:  Taiwan is shutting down a nuclear reactor which is apparently in perfectly good shape.   Angelica (at Twitter) says:  “The 985MW BWR from GE has served Taiwan well for 40 years. But for politics, it could have served for 40 more. What a tragedy…but also, a farce.”  (I wonder what kind of message about Taiwan’s strength and seriousness this shutdown sends to the CCP…never mind, I already know)

This post isn’t by any means a comprehensive report, just a roundup of some recent news and analysis that caught my eye.  See also my previous Nuclear News, featuring the currrent Miss America, Grace Stanke.

34 thoughts on “Nuclear News Update”

  1. An important characteristic of small modular reactors is that they are all the same. They may be factory produced, all to the same design and delivered to site in a manner that is Plug and Play. There are several types. The one that captures my imagination is Thorium based. It emits a slow neutron stream that is captured by aluminum film to make direct current. It creates no new radioisotopes, produces heat as a by product that can be captured for use (greenhouses?, aquaculture?). The US has estimated 1000 yrs supply.

  2. I had occasion to look up the statistics recently. The top 5 countries building large-scale nuclear power plants are (in order) China, India, Turkey, Russia, & South Korea. Between them, they have 40 utility-scale nuclear power plants under construction today</<. They also have a further 302 plants in the planning process.

    We can see the future taking shape. There will be the advanced countries with adequate reliable 24/7 electric power, and then there will be the also-rans with windmills. It is particularly telling that Nu-Scale Power has to go to Korea to manufacture key components of their cutting-edge Small Modular Reactors. That would be a bit like having to go to China to buy your medications. Oh wait!

  3. One of the things to watch about nuclear energy in the West is the policy momentum involved. You would think that the near-miss Europe went through last winter, with the predicted energy apocalypse caused by the Russian gas shut-off averted only by crash LNG imports and a very mild winter, that the European would get “religion” as it were. Same with the decades-long demonization of nuclear. However policy momentum is involved. Too many people have staked their scientific credibility, their political credibility, and money to turn away from “renewables” just because we averted granny freezing to death in her Norfolk bed sitter. Too man interests have lashed themselves to the mast,. I am afraid we’re going to have a reckoning of sorts before some of this can burn through the interference; hopefully, it won’t be too costly.

    My understanding on the 3 German nuclear reactors, politics of the Greens in the ruling coalition aside, was that once it was planned in 2011 to phase out all remaining nuclear power plants the required maintenance and refueling required to keep them working past their 2022/2023 shutdown was canceled. It makes sense, you don’t invest in asset you don’t plan to keep. Same issue with Diablo Canyon; once it was decided in 2016 to close the reactors by 2025 PG&E decided to not pursue the NERC re certification process. This has created a problem with the recent decision to keep the plant open as the length of the NERC process is lengthy goes beyond the date Diablo Canyon is certified to run. In addition, the original decision to close Diablo Canyon stemmed from the fact that given California’s push for renewables it was seen as no longer economical to run the plant

    Germany and Diablo Canyon present warning for a coming problem for the existing energy infrastructure. We can laugh at Biden’s King Canute moment with redoing tailpipe and power plant emission standards as well as dictates by California and other jurisdictions concerning ICE vehicles, appliances, and the like by some future date (2030 or 2040 or something). However these dictates, along with all the subsidies involved, send a clear message to industry that this is the acceptable future. Any self-respecting corporate board would ask hard questions about executives investing in maintenance, let alone new investment, into what seems to be a dead-ended part of the economy.

    That’s what I find frustrating about people and the press talking about “if we can go to the moon, we can…” or Apollo 11-moonshot analogies for building out renewables. If the Apollo program failed, we would have wasted a lot of money and perhaps have some dead astronauts but life would continue pretty much as before. However the “Green New Deal” isn’t just about providing new incentives for building out new energy technology, but creating disincentives to maintain the existing energy infrastructure. I fear that by the time we realize this is all a big mistake it would be too late to turn back because the old infrastructure will no longer exist.

  4. David F: “(South) Korea is hardly equivalent to China.”

    Please don’t miss the point. The equivalence is that the US — once the manufacturing colossus of the world, the arsenal of democracy — can no longer make most of the medications so important to so many citizens, and can no longer manufacture the metallurgy necessary for nuclear power plants (and much else besides).

    For a while, we were able to get away with instead making cappuccinos while importing real goods from smarter countries — but that time is coming to an end. What real goods & services do we trade to South Korea in exchange for their nuclear power plant components? How long will they continue to accept freshly-printed Bidenbucks IOUs?

  5. It is a great shame that the green movements around the world do not recognize nuclear power as a green source.

    It is a very good way to make power, and done right can solve so many problems as we move into a much more electric world.

    The various failures of nuclear plants, should have generated enough understanding to make safe nuclear power at this point.

    Hotspur: “tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to
    drink; but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this
    nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.”

  6. “It is a great shame that the green movements around the world do not recognize nuclear power as a green source.”

    To some extent, this is changing. There seem to be quite a few ‘green’ activists who have become pretty strong advocates for nuclear…Zion Lights, for one:

    …there are more. I notice recently a lot of concern about the tremendous land use required for wind/solar and the associated transmission lines.

  7. From David F’s link: “The U.S. goods and services trade deficit with Korea, South was $16.8 billion in 2020.”

    Let’s summarize: in 2020, the top US exports to South Korea were mineral fuels ($8.6 billion) & agricultural products ($7.8 billion). The top US imports from South Korea were: vehicles ($21 billion), machinery ($17 billion), electrical machinery ($15 billion).

    So the US is exporting raw materials & produce to partially offset the costs of importing high-tech manufactures. What is the definition of an under-developed Third World country?

    We are in complete agreement that we need to dump the “Green” nonsense and focus on nuclear power. But it is important that the US (re)-builds the infrastructure to be able to build nuclear power plants ourselves, instead of importing them.

  8. US exports also included $16.8B of machinery, electrical machinery, and optical/medical instruments (7.8, 5.7, and 3.3, respectively) There were $17.8B exports in the services sector, which includes a lot of stuff, including “charges for use of intellectual property.” If a Korean company is building a reactor based on a Westinghouse design, then somebody..either the Korean company or the end customer…is paying Westinghouse for the IP. This category would also include movies, music, and books.

    There is indeed a need to do more manufacturing in the US; components of getting this done include tax policy, regulatory policy, skills training, and public opinion. I do think that public attitudes toward manufacturing have become considerably more positive over the past decade. The Democrat approach of directing special benefits & subsidies to ‘hot’ and politically favored industries…kind of a reverse-bill-of-attainder approach…will not be productive.

  9. Sort of off topic, per the link, I’m absolutely amazed that the US exported $459 million worth of fresh fruit to Korea.

    Oranges ($141mm)
    Cherries ($76mm)
    Grapes ($41mm)
    The rest is “other”

    Top US orange export market, second highest for cherries and fourth largest for grapes. During some of the growing seasons in Chile, for example, the US has virtually no competition in some of these segments worldwide.

    I learn something new every day. Well, not sort of off topic, really off topic but an interesting factoid for a Monday.

  10. poorly written – I meant to say that the US has no competition DUE to the difference in growing seasons with Chile

  11. The idea of modular reactors has always seemed to me a great idea – like federalism, giving each area a power source will make it independent in the same way that respect for private property or the 2nd amendment or free speech does. Or is this what makes the Tony blinkens/John Kerrys of the world against independence? If we ever actually were faced with the kind of crisis of 1941 could we rev these manufacturing plants up?

  12. Ginny: “could we rev these manufacturing plants up?”

    Yes and no. The “no” comes from the fact that most of those manufacturing plants no longer exist. Where are the giant steel mills that once made Pittsburgh famous? (Answer; China).
    We cannot rev up something that no longer exists.

    The “yes” comes because of course given enough time we can build new plants. That will be a big investment, and will probably require lots of imported equipment, at least initially. How to pay for that when the US is bankrupt and running an unsustainable Trade Deficit? It could be done, but will mean sacrifices elsewhere in the economy.

    The other part of rebuilding is developing the necessary trained skilled experienced workforce. That needs recruits who can read, write, do arithmetic — which means we first have to tear down Big Education and rebuild the school system. It also needs already skilled workers who can lead the training. Those people will probably also have to be imported. The US could attract those kinds of foreigners during the 19th & early 20th Century when the US was the Land of Opportunity; what highly skilled marketable foreigner is going to choose to come to the US now it is the Land of the Bankrupt Woke? So building the workforce for the rebuilt factories is going to be a long slow job.

    It all can be done — provided enough people are prepared to tighten their belts and work hard. It will probably take 1 or 2 generations — 25 to 50 years.

  13. Those giant steel mills weren’t displaced only due to foreign competition, they were also displaced due to more innovative US competitors, many using electric arc furnaces rather than traditional methods. And while China makes a lot of steel…57% of the world total…according to this industry summary, the major sources of US imports are Canada and Brazil.

    My understanding is that the main issue with domestic sourcing of nuclear plant components is the availability of capacity to make very large forgings. From 2021:

    “Westinghouse says that the minimum requirement for making the largest AP1000 components is a 15,000 tonne press taking 350 tonne ingots.The very heavy forging capacity in operation today is in Japan (Japan Steel Works), China (China First Heavy Industries, China Erzhong, SEC), France (Le Creusot), and Russia (OMZ Izhora).New capacity is being built by JSW and JCFC in Japan, Shanghai Electric Group (SEC) and subsidiaries in China, and in South Korea (Doosan), Czech Rep (Pilsen) and Russia (OMZ Izhora and ZiO-Podolsk).New capacity is planned in UK (Sheffield Forgemasters) and India (Larsen & Toubro, Bharat Heavy Electricals, Bharat Forge Ltd). In China the Harbin Boiler Co. and SEC subsidiary SENPE are increasing capacity. Nothing in North America currently approaches these enterprises…”

    However “another development is Westinghouse going upstream and setting up factories in USA and China to produce modules for AP1000 reactors. In the USA Global Modular Solutions, a joint venture with Shaw Group, built a large factory in Louisiana, now known as CB&I Lake Charles.”

    A serious government, which was actually concerned about energy independence and economic growth…not to mention pollutant and CO2 reduction…would by looking systematically at the obstacles to developing this kind of capability in the US and how they can be overcome.

  14. During the ’50-’60’s, my dad was involved in the planning, design and construction of several coal power plants, one gas cooled nuclear (Fort Saint Vrain) and a pumped hydro (Cabin Creek).

    As explained to me; the economics of coal favored larger for lowest cost per KW. System stability and reliability, on the other hand, tended to limit the maximum size of any one unit in their system. Most power plants consisted of 3-4 independent units and were built in stages. The time line from starting of planning to commissioning was around five years. At the same time, the state of the art was advancing so that a unit planed for 300 MW probably ended up as 320, essentially for free. At that time, their system load was increasing at 8% per year, compounded, meaning it was doubling every 8-9 years.

    I believe that the minimum size for a light water nuclear plant at that time was about 1,000 MW, which is one of the reasons that utility never built one. It would have destabilized their system. Fort Saint Vrain was an experimental, gas cooled reactor around 300 MW and has since been decommissioned. It seems to have been a dead end but shows that the short comings of the light water reactors were apparent back then and alternatives were being sought.

    The mechanics of light water reactors seem to dictate a minimum size of about 1,000 MW and economics of construction with huge costs of insuring quality of the construction means that construction cost and especially construction time will not scale in favor of smaller plants. At the time, my dad said that time overruns cost a million dollars a day then, just in interest on the construction loans. That clock keeps right on ticking until the plant is on line and earning revenue. The regulatory climate, where no decision is ever final isn’t helping either.

    Speaking of which. Many wholesale utility rates explicitly subsidize “renewable” sources like wind and solar at the expense of base load thermal, so you’ll get paid less per KWH and sell fewer because you’ll be forced to throttle back when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. This was one of the issues of the Texas debacle. Thermal plants being no longer economic were scrapped and nobody will spend decades and billions to lose money to build more.

    Nuclear power is stuck in a quagmire of having to account for not just reasonable contingencies but everything that anyone can imagine. This approach might make some sense if history showed that early plants had problems. Instead history has yet to show enough radiation release to harm any living organism from any of these plants. That includes Three Mile Island. Again, there would be some justification if France, Germany or Japan were radioactive wastelands, they aren’t. The one notable failure had nothing to do with the plant but the willingness of the designers to take heed of known seismic risks. I leave out Russia for obvious reasons and there is no history yet from China, though I have great faith that they will prove very ingenious in exploring and possibly widening the failure envelope. All of the former have managed to build safe plants in a reasonably expeditious and economic way, present hysteria not withstanding. If these small modular plants can bypass the regulatory/political quagmire, it will be an advance, whether or not it represents an actual technological improvement. I have my doubts, since not much of the either the resistance or especially the regulators “concern” is rooted in good faith. However well the developers address the present issues will in no way prevent another regiment of “what about’s” from being called into being.

  15. MCS,

    I enjoyed your description of nukes and especially the impact both of renewables on the economics of thermal plants and of issues in financing nuclear plants. As we undergo this energy “transition” issues such as financing and return-on-capital play a critical if not determinative role especially in the absence of government funding.

    I’ll add one other element to your discussion in the last paragraph of why nuclear power is in a quagmire. When 60 Minutes interviewed Paul Ehrlich a few months, it jogged my memory of an article back in the 1980s concerning cold fusion (remember that?) and thanks to the “Internet is forever” I was able to dig it up

    Basically the article rails against the availability of cheap, abundant energy, citing several scientists, and includes Ehrlich’s classic quote that the prospect of cheap, inexhaustible power from fusion is “like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.” What the article does is put that long-ago story of cold fusion into the same story line as post-war nuclear energy as not a panacea of civilization, but as a spur for humans to further destroy the planet. While I think common opposition to nuclear is rooted in the fear of safety and radioactivity that you cite, the driving force behind anti-nuclear is the fear of the environmental movement of what happens if nuclear does work. In other words, an anti0human movement,

    One of the problems that we are dealing with is that change is generational. The other problem is that people like Ehrlich never go away, the crazy 60s and 70s never went away, because even if the people themselves do, the people that they mentor are still here. Ehrlich and others are a product of the 60s and the students they taught and influenced are now influencing another generation. It would be interesting for someone to do a deep dive on people driving the renewables policy and ascertain their intellectual heritage. If it is what I think, it would explain a lot.

  16. A companion to the press video:

    The reason that light water reactors haven’t gotten bigger, besides the problem of stabilizing the utility systems with a single point of failure greater than 1,000 MW is the problem of transporting the reactor vessel. They have to be transported by water and road because they are far too large to use rail. They have to be a single piece and are roll forged rather than press forged.

    The U.S. has a disadvantage in so much of the country is far from any navigable waterway.

  17. Perhaps economies of scale from increased production volumes (3x300MW vessels instead of one 900MW vessel) can overcome the reduced efficiencies & any increased on-site labor costs for multiple smaller units? (Should be able to have multiple reactors feed common turbines, generators, switchgear, etc)

  18. The problems of nuclear power in the U.S. have little to nothing to do with the actual plants. It’s the risk and cost associated with the decades long process of approval and construction. If you look at the foreign projects, you’ll see a time line of 5-8 years from start to finish compared to here where 20 years or longer, along with endless reassessments and court challenges is the norm. These modular plants may be a genuine advancement but that was never the issue to begin with. These new plants could be free and still, no one could afford the cost and the time to build one unless it can be completed in a reasonable time frame and risk.

    The Achilles heal of light water reactors is the requirement for active cooling for years after being shut down and insuring this through various contingencies costs much in money and regulatory hand wringing. Fukushima shows what happens when it fails. Other types of reactors are capable of passive cooling, numerous of these designs have been touted but none have been built to my knowledge. The fond hope of most of these is that once a prototype is approved, that approval will apply to subsequent production. Time will tell, but I’m not betting any of my money on regulatory sanity suddenly manifesting.

  19. We, of course, don’t get a vote. It’s all the true believers in the NRC, EPA, etc that get to decide. It takes less than five minutes for you neophyte bureaucrat to learn he’ll never get in trouble for stopping something and it saves so much work too.

  20. The decision to shut down power plants appears insane if you think the leaders want what’s best for their people, instead of wanting to eliminate 70% of the world’s population.
    The delays in getting things started reminded me of the unending legal appeals, dragging on for year after year, to prevent a convicted killer from receiving the death penalty. The opponents then turn around and say the long time period between conviction and execution is a reason to ban the death penalty.
    In this case we appear to have lawfare being waged against permits for nuclear plants.

  21. Trudeau no matter what you think of him, is for nuclear power, and wants Canada to be part of the SMR reactor push.

    That might be but he wants to end agriculture.

  22. “That might be but he wants to end agriculture.”

    LOL. That is what you believe. You have to hook me up with your source.

  23. Let’s see. Things seem to have progressed since I was last pushing various farm machines. This is the newest John Deere combine:
    well north of 3/4 million at least and above $1,000,000 outfitted for some applications.

    Read down to where it says 690 max horsepower. Normally, you’d want to operate between 80-90% load and do it for 14-18 hours a day. Remember, you’re in a race to finish in whatever time you have between when the crop is ready and the, usually weather, will destroy it. One of the reasons I don’t have much to do with farming is just how much a couple of days down time can cost. It’s the best way I know to turn a lot of money into a pile of debt.

    I expect the newest dinky Tesla requires between 10-15 HP to push it down a level dry windless road on a day that’s neither too hot or too cold. It might manage to do this for maybe three hours before you’ll have to spend an hour or so waiting for it to charge enough to run a couple more.

    Just how big a battery do you think that combine will have to drag around? Where are you gong to charge it? I’ve been on many farms where you had trouble running a 10 HP motor because of poor electrical service and many fields have none at all, being miles from the nearest power lines. To say this hasn’t been thought through wildly exaggerates the amount of thinking that’s been done.

    Those combines and tractors are the reason that 80% of you aren’t getting up at 4:00AM every morning to feed and harness horses before you walk out to the field. 90%, probably more, of all the heavy duty equipment in the world will never be electrified or hydrogen fueled.

  24. nitrogen deprived farming, leads to the disasters of sri lanka, which they are trying to impose on the first world,

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