Letter: Mike Clancy, General Secretary, Prospect: The comments by John McDonnell, the UK shadow chancellor, and his energy adviser about trade union opposition to low carbon energy are as wrong as they are misguided (“McDonnell backs Mersey tidal project in renewables push”, March 7). My union, Prospect, is the largest representing specialists and managers in the nuclear and electricity sectors. Like many unions we are passionately in favour of the UK reducing its carbon emissions to meet its international obligations, including from the energy sector. In the transition to low carbon energy, far from opposing nuclear power Labour MPs should stick to the manifesto they were elected on last year. This committed the party to the future of nuclear energy, recognising that nuclear must be part of our future low carbon energy mix, providing the fully predictable, always on and always available element of our electricity to supply. This will be needed to make the transition to a high level of renewables without compromising security of supply. For those working in areas that have to change, all we ask is for a just transition for those who currently work in the sector who will be affected. This means government support for re-skilling workers, no race to the bottom on employment standards and a clear plan for the shape of our future energy networks. And crucially it means raising the appallingly low levels of trade union recognition in the renewable energy sector – something Labour have been scandalously quiet on so far.
FT 8th March 2018 read more »
Without nuclear, according to the IPCC projections, we are less likely to keep the planet from disastrous levels of warming, and the effort will be more expensive. It’s hard not to take the IPCC as definitive, but it’s worth untangling the issues at play to see whether nuclear is truly essential to a future clean energy economy. Nuclear reactors are good at providing a steady stream of electrons — keeping your refrigerator cold 24 hours a day — while the wind gusts and calms and the sun rises and falls. In the United States, the reactors almost always run flat out. But they don’t have to — it’s technically possible to turn them up and down. Because nuclear plants cost a lot to build and run, it makes sense to squeeze as much power out of them as possible, says Massimiliano Fratoni, a nuclear engineer at the University of California, Berkeley. “Part of this is also cultural,” Fratoni says. “It’s a point of pride to be able to keep the plant operating at 90 percent of capacity.” Jesse Jenkins, a graduate researcher studying pathways to decarbonization at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has named these three forms of electricity generation “fuel saving” (intermittent renewables), “fast burst” (batteries and peakers), and “flexible base” (the rest). Understanding this flexible-base category is key to understanding why we might want to use nuclear, and whether we could move forward without it. According to Jenkins’ work, it’s possible to get to zero carbon with just the fuel-saving and fast-burst sources (essentially, renewables and storage). In that scenario: There’s no need for input from the flexible-base category. But here’s the problem: In order to eliminate the flexible-base sources entirely, you’d have to build enough renewables and storage to satisfy peak demand even when there’s barely any sun or light. But, according to Craig Morris, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, Jenkins is too optimistic about nuclear ramping to fill in for renewable electricity. In a new paper, Morris shows that grid managers will ramp down every other form of generator before ramping down nuclear. After all, they just aren’t designed to be agile. He notes that in France, where 75 percent of electricity comes from nuclear reactors, the nuclear fleet as a whole has never ramped down by more than one third. He’s skeptical that a fleet like France’s can do more than that. We could really use a low-carbon class of energy generation that flexes smoothly with the ebb and flow of renewables. That simply doesn’t exist right now. Existing nuclear power plants don’t flex efficiently … but they can flex, inefficiently, if they have to. The modern debate turns on prices. If you think of power plants as interchangeable black boxes that spit out electrons, it’s hard to find any reason to build nuclear reactors. But if you’re differentiating between the various categories of power plants — if you want workhorses to supplement the times when renewables and batteries show their weaknesses — nuclear can make a lot of sense.
Grist 6th March 2018 read more »
Nuclear energy has faced serious challenges in recent years because of several factors: competition from low gas prices, subsidised renewables and slow growth in electricity demand in certain markets. But because of several powerful forces we are seeing signs that this year nuclear energy will come roaring back, writes Jarret Adams. Several nuclear plants have closed prematurely in the United States, and other shutdowns have been announced. But in every instance, the nuclear plant closures have led to higher emissions and electricity prices, pointing out a difficult truth. Experts say it is virtually impossible for a major economy to have a reliable, low-carbon grid without nuclear energy. The Germans are learning this lesson the hard way. With more than 50 nuclear plants under construction today and 150 more planned, the pace of construction is faster than at any time since the 1990s. This year we expect to see 14 new plants come online, with some key new-generation plants, such as Westinghouse’s AP1000 and Framatome’s EPR, both in China, expected at or near completion. The first of four APR1400 reactors in the United Arab Emirates, built by Korea’s Kepco, is nearing completion largely on time and on budget. This clearly demonstrates there is nothing inherent about nuclear that prevents this technology from being built economically and on a predictable timeline.
World Nuclear News 7th March 2018 read more »