Managing assets - a global issue

29 November 2000

Utility executives around the world are choosing different ways to manage their nuclear assets. Some are extending the lifetimes of their current plants, while others are building new reactors.By: Stuart Price

Currently, utility executives around the world are asking the question: "How can we best manage our nuclear energy assets?" Nuclear energy generates about 17% of the world's electricity and, in April 2002, the IAEA reported there were 438 nuclear power plant reactors in operation with a total installed capacity of 353GWe.

It is a foregone conclusion that in the coming years there will be a greater demand for clean electricity. To increase available megawatts, many utilities are getting more performance from their current nuclear resources by submitting station relicencing plants and power uprate applications to regulators.

According to Christian Poindexter, chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, his organisation expects to see the first grant of an early site permit for a new nuclear power plant in the USA soon. Once granted by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), an early site permit will enable a company to consider building a nuclear plant when it needs new generating capacity. A few electric utilities - including Virginia Power, Entergy and Exelon - are seeking early site permits to build new units at locations currently licensed to house reactors. No new reactors have been ordered in the USA since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

Executives in other countries are also increasing operations at their plants, and many are deciding that now is the time to strengthen their nuclear energy foundations. These executives are choosing to add nuclear assets to their energy portfolios to achieve environmental goals, energy independence, and economic performance.

Production in Russia

Russia has 30 domestic reactors in nine locations that can generate 21GWe. Minatom hopes to complete construction of five reactors that were delayed in the 1980s and build 25 new units in the next 20 years. Russian technologies include the VVER and the RBMK.

According to the US Argonne National Laboratory, one reactor under construction in Kursk is Kursk 5, which will generate 925MWe. Mintyazhmash is the reactor supplier.

The Russian energy infrastructure requires substantial upgrading, and the nation announced in October 2000 that it plans to export its nuclear engineering services and place electricity available on the market to gain funds to rebuild domestic energy capacity. Deputy atomic energy minister Bulat Nigmatulin has said Russia is currently helping to build five reactors in China, Iran and India, and expects to build another five reactors abroad by 2010. Russian officials have also announced that North Korea has asked for their help in building a reactor. The USA has officially protested against this.

Production in the Czech Republic

Temelin in the South Bohemia section of the Czech Republic is the first nuclear project to coordinate East European and Western technologies.

Temelin includes two Russian-designed VVER-1000 reactors. Temelin 1 is operating and generates 981MWe. Temelin 2 is scheduled to begin commercial operations in early 2003. Skoda is the reactor supplier.

Production in India

Two billion people in the world have no access to electricity. Most of these people live in developing countries like India and China - the most heavily populated nations. India is one of the world's largest energy consumers, but faces significant energy shortages. Heavily reliant on high-sulphur coal, India plans major electric infrastructure investments.

About one billion people live in India, and this population has seriously strained the nation's infrastructure and environment. The World Health Organisation reports that New Delhi is one of the ten most polluted cities in the world. Its major air emissions include greenhouse gases, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter.

Nuclear facilities generate 2% of the nation's electricity. These assets include BWRs and PHWRs. The PHWR is an Indian design that uses uranium fuel and heavy water as the moderator.

Two 500MWe PHWRs at Tarapur are scheduled for completion by 2006-7.

Given its large reserves of thorium, India also develops thorium fuels and a compatible advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR). According to India's Atomic Energy Commission, the nation hopes to have 20,000MWe of nuclear capacity installed by 2020.

Production in China

China, the world's most populous state with a population of 1.3 billion, has the world's largest coal reserves and is also the largest consumer of coal. While these national power plants are not clean energy generators, the country does not appear to have a shortage of electricity capacity.

However, China does face major energy-related environmental problems. WHO reports that China contains seven of the world's ten most polluted cities. Major national emissions include greenhouses gases, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter. Three PWRs currently produce about 1% of the nation's annual electricity, or about 2GWe.

Several reactors under construction are located in Zhejiang. These include Qinshan Phase 2 Unit 2, a 600MWe PWR in Haiyan, Zhejiang. This unit is expected to begin commercial operation later in 2002. The China National Nuclear Corporation is the reactor supplier.

According to the People's Daily, Qinshan Phase 2 Unit 1, another 600MWe PWR, began operating in April 2002, and this was "the first nuclear power station of China's own design and construction for commercial purposes".

Production in Iran

Iran is seeking to enter the commercial nuclear energy field. Siemens began an $800 million project to install two reactors at Bushehr in the 1970s. This effort was delayed.

Today, Iranian officials are working with Russian contractors to install VVERs instead of the German designs at Bushehr. Photographs show that work at one of the 1000MWe reactors is well advanced.

According to Iran's Energy Commission, operators have completed the main section of one building, and have begun to install interior equipment. Commission officials state that the first phase of Bushehr will begin operations in September 2002.

The state commission claims that Iran - a member of the IAEA and a signatory nation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - has the right to use nuclear energy for power generation, agriculture and industrial use. The US State Department, however, has voiced opposition to this project, claiming security reasons. The State Department maintains that Iran has sufficient oil and gas, and does not need nuclear power. Iran contends that it wants to expand flexibility that will allow it to market fossil fuels instead of consume them.

Production in Japan

Japan has one of the world's largest economies and is a major energy consumer. However, it lacks natural resources to supplement its energy needs and, therefore, imports large amounts of petroleum, natural gas and uranium. Major national emissions include greenhouse gases and sulphur dioxide.

Japan ranks third in installed nuclear capacity, behind the USA and France. Current nuclear assets include 51 reactors that generate 45GWe, or about 30% of the nation's electricity. In recent years, though, public opposition to nuclear energy has grown due to a series of accidents, the rising cost of reactors and fuels, large investment expenses, and the global problem of waste management.

Operators are building Unit 5, a 1380MWe ABWR, at Hamaoka. This will stand facing the Pacific Ocean, and will incorporate cooling seawater through a submarine tunnel that extends 600m offshore. Four BWRs at Hamaoka are currently active.

GE Nuclear Energy developed the ABWR design and has partnered with Hitachi, another BWR designer. Toshiba has a contract to install the reactor's nuclear steam supply system.

According to John Redding, with GE Nuclear Energy, the new reactor at Hamaoka is scheduled to enter commercial operation in 2004. "Hamaoka 5 is based upon the Japanese version of the ABWR design that was jointly developed by GE, Hitachi and Toshiba," he explained. "Two units of this design, Kashiwazaki 6 and 6, have already accumulated a little over 10 reactor years of operating experience." GE has also developed a version of the ABWR design that has been licensed by the US NRC.

GE announced that the ABWR has been designed to higher levels of safety and is designed to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a severe accident, such as a potential core melt. Licensing documents approved by the US NRC indicate that, even in the event of a severe accident, there will be no release of radioactive material to the public.

Some people spoke against operations at Hamaoka. Approximately 1000 people claimed in April 2002 that they would sue the utility, citing concerns that the reactors are located in an earthquake-prone region. The plaintiffs noted potential dangers to residents in the event of a major earthquake.

Production in Taiwan

Air pollution is a primary concern for Taiwan, especially in Taipei. Thermal energy sources generate most of the country's electricity.

Operators are building two reactors at Lungmen. Many stakeholders have opposed this project, in part, because of government support for the project's total price tag of $6.5 billion. Nevertheless, the owner received the necessary permits and poured concrete in March 1999.

GE won the contract to supply the reactors and steam generators in May 1996 with a bid of $1.8 billion. These reactors, units 1 and 2, include two ABWRs, each rated at 1350MWe, and are scheduled to begin operations in 2004 and 2005.

Planning in South Africa

Two PWRs, each generating 920MWe, currently operate in South Africa.

While no new construction projects are underway, Eskom is developing the 120MWe Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). This is a smaller, gas-cooled unit with a short construction timeframe of 24 months. The PBMR does not require multi-billion dollar investments like conventional reactors.

Planning in the UK

One consideration in the UK involves balancing fossil fuel plant operations with clean nuclear designs to meet national emission limits. Three energy policy reports recognised the importance of retaining the nuclear option.

In its "Replace nuclear with nuclear" programme, British Energy said that it may replace its current nuclear assets with new reactors when they reach the end of their planned lifetimes. Current British Energy assets include AGRs and a PWR at Sizewell B. Replacement reactors under consideration include Candu andtional pride in maintaining an empire than AP-1000 models.

In February, BNFL signed a one-year agreement to assess the AP-1000. This design features passive safety systems that take advantage of natural forces including gravity, convection, evaporation and condensation.

"We believe the AP-1000 is the right reactor right now," said Paul Vallance of BNFL. "This modular unit generates significant amounts of clean power, features advanced safety features, and can be assembled quickly. BNFL believes that today's market demands these power system qualities."

Westinghouse - designer of the AP-1000 - submitted an application for certification of this advanced reactor to the US NRC in April 2002. If approved, the AP-1000 will join three other advanced reactor designs that have been approved by the NRC over the past five years. Certification is expected in late 2004.

Westinghouse also reached an agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in February 2002 calling for Mitsubishi to conduct engineering and design activities for this advanced PWR.


No sole business impetus guides the direction of the global nuclear industry.

Most nations investing in new reactors are just beginning to build their nuclear reactor fleets. These nations see that nuclear energy assets offer valuable means to generate electricity to grow their economies, reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, and comply with international agreements that are likely to be enacted in the near future.

With a steady eye on safety, other utilities are generally finding it economic to upgrade their current assets so they can operate at higher performance levels. Some utilities are also working with regulators to plan for new reactors in the coming years.

Our world needs to take advantage of the environmental and generation advantages that nuclear energy assets offer. On a country-by-country basis, executives need to determine how to best manage their own energy systems.

Generation IV

Working with other countries, governments, industry, and research organisations, the US Department of Energy is focusing on next generation nuclear systems known as Generation IV.

Member countries are preparing a Generation IV Roadmap to identify the most promising reactor and fuel cycle systems and the necessary R&D. Promoting greater public acceptance for nuclear energy is one programme objective. Participants began compiling the Roadmap in October 2000, and are scheduled to complete it in September 2002.

Generation IV nuclear energy systems will be proliferation resistant and will offer economic, safety, reliability, and sustainability advantages. Participants will evaluate the commercial viability of several advanced reactors, including the PBMR, the ABWR, and the AP-1000. Generation IV systems should be deployed commercially by 2030.

Another phase of the Generation IV programme involves the Near-Team Deployment Group. This group's main objectives involve:

• Encouraging that at least one new domestic plant is ordered by 2005.

• At least one new plant achieves US NRC-certification and operational status by 2010.

The US Energy Bill

The US Senate passed its version of the national energy policy bill in April 2002, and the House of Representatives passed its version last year.

Now the two bodies will meet in conference to reconcile differences between the two bills. "The six weeks we spent on the floor were something of a marathon, but I believe we got through it in pretty good shape," explained Bill Wicker of the Senate Energy Committee. "The challenge now is seeing if we can persuade the House to accept a bill that is worth sending to president Bush for signature. I think we'll be able to do that before Congress adjourns in October."

The Senate version contains several sections to promote nuclear power, and directs the US secretary of energy to:

• Support a Nuclear Energy Technology Development programme to develop a technology roadmap to design and develop new nuclear energy plans.

• Study Generation IV nuclear energy systems.

• Make an informed technical decision regarding the most promising candidates for commercial deployment.

• Develop advanced reactors that incorporate passively safe designs and are proliferation resistant.

• Examine more efficient, lower cost, and longer life reactor designs that minimise waste production.

Table: Reactors under construction

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