Global nuclear power capacity grew slightly in 2016, writes Jim Green, but it was more a dead cat bounce than the promised ‘nuclear renaissance’. The collapse of Toshiba, the direct result of its failing nuclear ventures, is indicative of the crisis faced by nuclear contractors and utilities worldwide. Another sign of the industry’s poor outlook: no major commodity had a worse 2016 than uranium. The ripple-effects of Toshiba’s latest problems will be many and varied. Japan’s ambitions to develop a large nuclear export business are in tatters. As recently as last year, Toshiba said it hoped to win 50 contracts to build new nuclear plants in India and China over the next decade. Also up in the air are reactor construction projects being planned in the UK, Turkey, and elsewhere. Toshiba says it is “re-examining its relationship” with Westinghouse, its struggling US subsidiary. Delays and cost overruns on nuclear construction projects in the US will be expressed as write-downs that could be as high as US$7 billion. In Europe, energy giants EDF, Engie (France), E.ON, RWE (Germany) and Vattenfall (Sweden), as well as utilities TVO (Finland) and CEZ (Czech Republic), have all been downgraded by credit rating agencies over the past year. All of the utilities registered severe losses on the stock market. The decision to go ahead with two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in the UK may be a blessing or a curse for the industry. Other EPR projects face mounting problems – long delays; spectacular cost increases; ongoing inquiries into the integrity of EPR pressure vessels; and in the case of the EPR under construction in Finland, litigation. EDF faces additional problems as a result of Brexit, the UK’s impending withdrawal from the European Union, which will, significantly, include withdrawal from the Euratom treaty. The post-referendum fall in the value of Sterling will cut its income, while costs will remain roughly level; EDF’s ability to import skilled workers to build the reactors is also in doubt. And the Euratom exit creates a host of additional uncertainties. And even if construction at Hinkley Point goes to plan and to budget, the obscene subsidies will turn the British public against nuclear power for decades to come. Eight of the UK’s 15 power reactors are scheduled to be shut down over the next decade, and it’s unlikely that new reactors will keep pace with closures.
Ecologist 3rd Feb 2017 read more »
Costly delays, growing complexity and new safety requirements in the wake of the triple meltdown at Fukushima are conspiring to thwart a new age of nuclear reactor construction. So-called generation III+ reactors were supposed to have simpler designs and safety features to avoid the kind of disaster seen in Japan almost six years ago. With their development, the industry heralded the dawn of a new era of cheaper, easier-to-build atomic plants. In 2015, the investment cost to develop a new nuclear plant was $5,828 per kilowatt, up from $2,065 in 1998, according to a World Nuclear Association report. In Europe, construction of a new nuclear facility in France seen costing $7,202 per kilowatt, compared with $2,280. Toshiba isn’t alone. France’s Areva SA is seeking a 4.5 billion-euro bailout from the French government after running into delays and escalating costs at its next-generation EPR reactor at Olkiluoto in Finland, which is almost a decade late. It’s also selling its nuclear reactor construction business to Electricite de France. An Areva spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday. One fundamental problem facing developers is the slowed pace of construction since a nuclear building boom in the 1970s and 1980s, according to Mark Hibbs, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Program.“You get better at building reactors when you can keep at it,” Hibbs said by e-mail. “At some point Areva and Westinghouse may get to the point of doing that with generation three, but they would have to get up to speed first.”
Bloomberg 2nd Feb 2017 read more »