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Home Columns Dissenting Opinion The Renaissance of Nuclear-Power Plants in the World
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Columns - Dissenting Opinion
Written by Ado Paglinawan   
Monday, 23 November 2009 19:27

 

Part Four of Book II: A People Caught in Its Own Dung

By Ado Paglinawan

 

 

W ith concerns about global warming and energy security on the rise, countries the world over are taking a new look at nuclear energy.

 

This is 58 years after an experiment on the use of nuclear power using a breeder reactor in Arco, Idaho, somehow illuminated four light bulbs on December 20, 1951. Three years after, on June 26, 1954, at Obninsk, Russia, the nuclear power plant APS-1 produced a net electrical output of 5-megawatts.

 

The world's first commercial nuclear plant, Calder Hall 1, was located at Seascale, England. It consisted of four gas-graphite reactors each with an electrical power of 55-MW. It was first connected to the power grid on August 27, 1956.

 

Today, the cumulative experience in operating nuclear-power plants amounted to 13,475 years by the end of 2008.

 

As of September 2009, there are 436 nuclear reactors operating in 31 countries across the globe with an installed electric net capacity of 370-gigawatts.

 

They fill 6.5-percent of the world’s total energy demand and use close to 70,000 tons of enriched uranium per year. Atomic plants produce one-sixth of the world’s total electricity supply – roughly at par with hydropower. As of end 2008 the total electricity production since 1951 amounts to 62,048-billion kilowatt hours.

 

The numbers will soon skyrocket as some countries are building new reactors as fast as they can.

 

As we speak, 29 nuclear-power plants are under construction. There are concrete plans to build another 64 while another 158 are in the drawing boards. On the other end of the equation, only six are slowly being shut down in preparation for decommissioning.

 

In response to the growing demand, the price for uranium has increased seven-fold since 2002 and now sells for $72 per pound (454 grams). The fact that no final storage place exists for highly radioactive waste is considered to be but a secondary problem. The only terminal repository apparently free from political opposition is that in Finland's Eurajoki where such a site is now under construction, where nuclear waste will be stored at a maximum depth of 520 meters in shafts bored deep into the granite bedrock.

 

The French Reliance on Nuclear Power

 

T here is a lot of admiration for France that has been virtually alone in its 80% reliance on nuclear technology for power. Its 59 plants allow the country to be mostly self-sufficient in energy.

 

Ukraine also wants to build more nuclear power plants in order to increase its self-sufficiency, despite the trauma of Chernobyl. Bulgaria and the Czech Republic are both discussing building two new nuclear reactors each.

 

Lithuania, for example, urgently wants to replace its aging Ignalina nuclear reactor. Doing so would allow the country to decrease its dependence on Russia, but the price tag is some three-billion euros.

 

Poland is eyeing to build a nuclear plant after 2020 in Gryfino or Klempicz near Posnan, both close to the German border, since its domestic coal-fired power plants could soon run afoul of European Union regulations. Next year the EU wants to tighten the emissions requirements for such polluters. But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso cleverly avoided the issue as he announced the EU's new energy strategy.

 

Germany is joined by a number of other EU countries in their skepticism toward nuclear power. But Mr. Barroso did not conceal his committee’s sympathy for atomic power, citing both environmental reasons and issues related to securing Europe’s energy supply.

 

 

Many of Europe’s aging coal-fired power plants will have to close as a result of new European-Union standards.

Britain’s Labour government wants to prepare the way for new atomic power plants by easing the approval process; many of its aging coal-fired power plants will have to close as a result of new EU standards.

 

Russia’s Planned 30 New Reactors

 

G as-fired plants could help to close the gap, but Europe’s two most important suppliers, Russia’s Gazprom and Algeria’s state-owned Sonatrach, signed an agreement last August that has aroused suspicions in London and Brussels that they will create a cartel similar to OPEC.

 

So Moscow wants to build about 30 new reactors, partially because Gazprom does not want to sell natural gas on the domestic market at low prices. The Kremlin speculates that it will be able to obtain $30-billion from foreign investors to fund their construction.

 

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called for the former superpower to take a “giant leap” by expanding its nuclear-energy sector, but at present it only has one factory capable of manufacturing turbines and reactors. Consequently, Russia can only build one new nuclear-power plant every three years but wants to sell nuclear technology abroad at discounted prices, charging roughly 30 percent less than France for its reactors.

 

Where nuclear power has already been harnessed by many countries for the benefit of their national constituencies, the Bataan nuclear-power plant remains mothballed, looking as if it were a most-expensive trophy for the less brave and the foolish.

 

The United States itself is talking about building more than 20 new plants after a 20-year construction moratorium. Washington is providing tax incentives for power-plant operators and is working to ease obtaining required permits.

 

India is considering building 19 new reactors, while nuclear energy is a strategic priority for South Korea as it plans to increase its 20 reactors providing 40% of its electricity to 56% capacity increase to 27-gigawatts by 2020.

 

Malaysian utility Tenaga may construct the country's first nuclear-power plant at a cost of 3.1-billion dollars for a 1,000 megawatt plant but is braced for objections from the public as it considers nuclear power to meet its long-term energy needs amid surging global oil prices.

 

Japan is the second country outside of the United States with the largest number of nuclear-power plants, in spite of its harrowing experience in Nagasaki and Heroshima during the Second World War. It has 55, two more are under construction and 11 are in advanced planning stages.

 

The Chinese Experience

 

In contrast, in China that notoriously has the worst air quality in the world, 80% of its mainland electricity is produced from fossil fuels (80% from coal, 2% from oil, 1% from gas in 2006) and 15% from hydropower. According to the World Bank, this country’s economic loss due to pollution is pegged at almost 6% of GDP

 

China also has 11 nuclear-power reactors in commercial operation, 16 under construction, and at least eight more about to start construction in 2009. It aims to achieve a six-fold increase in nuclear capacity to at least 60-gigawatts by 2020, and then a further three to fourfold increase to 120-160-gigawatts by 2030 using some of the world's most advanced reactors, while expecting to become self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle.

 

The Indonesian Plan

 

In emerging-market Indonesia a single, very modest, nuclear reactor could go online in 2011. Two possible sites have been proposed – Muria in Central Java or Gorontalo in the north of Sulawesi. Plans for an atomic program were mostly shelved in 1997 due to the discovery of the Natuna gas field but have been revived since 2005. The country is not new to the technology, as it established in the mid-90s three reactors for research purposes. This is a curious development as Indonesia like Japan, experience frequent earthquakes while at the same has fertile uranium deposits in its territory.

 

Canada and Australia, the two most significant uranium suppliers, are reliable partners. Other suppliers include Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Namibia and Niger. Kazakhstan wants to surpass Canada as the world’s leading uranium supplier by 2010, which explains why French, Chinese and Japanese companies are racing to invest there.

 

The Case of Australia

 

In Australia where nuclear-power plants seem to be not welcomed by Kevin Rudd, the incumbent prime minister, 700 miners are employed by the Olympic Dam to dig several kilometers of tunnels for uranium under the desert in the country’s wish to remain the world's second largest supplier after Canada.

 

As uranium prices began rising since 2002, proponents of nuclear power advocated it as a solution to global warming and the Australian government began taking an interest.

 

In 2006, the government of former Prime Minister John Howard commissioned nuclear physicist and IT manager Ziggy Switkowski to investigate into the merits of nuclear power in Australia. His report said the country stands to improve its poor record of carbon dioxide emissions and allow it to tap an almost inexhaustible source of energy – Australia has more than 38 percent of the world’s accessible uranium reserves.

 

The report optimistically concluded that Australia’s power industry would be able to produce its first plant by 2020 and could deliver 25 plants by mid-century supplying a third of its base load power.

 

Local independent Australian scientists have of course been critical of the findings of the Switkowski inquiry. Queensland and Tasmania have introduced legislation to ban nuclear-power development. But a good number of politicians as well as the Australian general public feel that the development of nuclear power is in the country's best interests.

 

The 1979 McNair Gallup poll found 56% of Australians were opposed to the construction of nuclear power plants, while 34% of were in favor and 10% were uncommitted. These figures were largely affected by the Three Mile Island accident.

 

The same pollster in 2007 found 53% of Australians were opposed, 41% were in favor of the construction of nuclear power plants and 6% were uncommitted. But this year 2009, opposition further dropped by 10% to 43% while approval jumped 8% to 49%, and 8% was uncommitted.

 

Prime Minister Howard and Mr. Switkowski have undoubtedly generated a strong and growing enthusiasm for the nuclear power as a practical and useful tool.

 

The international atomic energy lobby loves such talk.



A New Atomic-energy Boom 
 

A lmost 21 years after the Chernobyl disaster, and just a couple months after the most recent breakdown at Sweden’s Forsmark reactor last July, the risks associated with nuclear power are largely fading into the background. So too are questions about the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and atomic weapons. The industry, in short, is preparing for a new boom.

 

The main obstacle to the construction of nuclear-power plants is no longer the anti-nuclear power lobby, but the huge costs of building them. Whereas in 1970 a brand-new reactor cost $400-million, a plant now runs as much as 10 times higher. In the last three decades the nuclear power industry has received subsidies of about $1-billion – the electricity generated may be clean from a global warming point of view, but it is not cheap.

 

Nonetheless, power-plant construction companies are hoping for a renaissance. Eon has applied to build a new plant in Romania’s Cernavoda and Siemens expects orders to triple in the next five years. General Electric too expects a number of new reactors to be built within the next decade, says Ferdinando Beccalli-Falco, a GE manager.

 

Indeed, the nuclear industry stands to benefit. Corporations are celebrating the “strategic shift” and preparing for a blast-off blooming in the horizon. Japan’s Toshiba has acquired United States-based Westinghouse, General Electric is working together with Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy is flirting with the Franco-German global market leader Areva NP, in which Siemens holds a stake.

 

Even former President George W. Bush promoted a “Global Nuclear Energy Partnership” to foster the use of nuclear power while also monitoring to ensure that the technology is not misused by North Korea, Iran or al-Qaida.

 

The US has budgeted $250-million to support the partnership, and the Hill & Knowlton public relations company, which worked for the government during the first Gulf war, has already launched a PR campaign pushing nuclear power.

 

The need for visibility seems unavoidable, since even the most enthusiastic supporters of the new atomic era cannot deny that it brings with it accentuated risks, and that no one can guarantee that civilian nuclear research will not be misused.

 

The case of the Philippines, however, is one for Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.

 

T he Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was ready for test firing as early as twenty-three years ago, intended to make the country the very first in Southeast Asia to embark into the atomic age.

 

It was a PWR-type of facility (Pressurized Water Reactor). Today, 265 or 60% of the 439 plants operating worldwide are PWRs. For the past more than 40 years, no death has been attributed to the operation of this type of power plant.

 

Track Records of Safety

 

T hree other similar types and design were constructed simultaneously with the Bataan plant. These were Krsko in Yugoslavia (now Slovenia), Kori 2 in South Korea and Angra 1 in Brazil. These plants have been operating for more than 20 years, with no news of death or accident.

 

In addition, the BNPP has similar types of earlier or latter designs in the United States, with or without minor variations. These are the Farley in Alabama, Palo Verde I, II and III in Arizona, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre plants in California, the Callaway in Missouri, the Indian Point Energy Center Units 2 and 3 in New York, and the Shearon-Harris in North Carolina – all with impeccable safety records.

 

Many of these facilities have applied for extended operating licenses of an additional twenty years from their initial 40-year authorization. Some have already been granted.

 

Where elsewhere nuclear power has already been harnessed for the benefit of its constituencies, the Bataan nuclear-power plant remains mothballed, looking as if it were a most-expensive trophy for the less brave and the foolish.

 

Throughout the globe, the cold fact still remains that despite the lofty ambitions and impressive figures, 1.6-billion people do not have access to electricity, while 2.4-billion are forced to meet their energy needs with wood, straw or manure.

 

A strong and problematic divide between science and ideology, with indeed political will breaking most ties! # # #


 

E ditor’s Note: To read the various chapters of Book Two, please click on these hyperlinks:

 

The Genesis of a Nuclear Philippines
(Part
III)

 

Protocols on Nuclear Security, Safety and Technology Transfer (Part II)

 

After the Deluge, Soon the Return of Massive Brownouts? (Part I of Book II)

 



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Last Updated on Monday, 23 November 2009 19:57
 

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