It is something of a cliché to say that the power industry is undergoing rapid change as a result of deregulation. This change has had many effects throughout the industry, not all of which have been quite as expected. For example, when deregulation first began in the USA, most predictions were that nuclear power plants would prove to be expensive stranded assets. Well, they turned out to be expensive, certainly, but that was because so many companies wanted to buy them. We have seen nuclear power plants changing hands at ever-increasing price tags.

However, the main changes that have resulted from deregulation have now become clear, and companies are now hard at work adjusting to the new situation. Tougher competition has meant that there is a strong downward pressure on electricity prices, which has in turn meant that utilities have to cut costs and improve efficiencies.

Thus we have seen restructuring, outsourcing, consolidation and productivity improvements. As a result, load factors for PWRs and BWRs have trended constantly upwards (see figures on p34-37 for details on this trend).

To cope with this new situation, nuclear fuel has to meet new requirements. These requirements are to be discussed at TopFuel 2001, which is being held in Stockholm on 27-30 May.

Fuel designs have to provide reactor operators with flexibility to enable them to adjust reactor operation to individual needs while improving the safety and economics of the operation. Developments are needed in the design and fabrication of nuclear fuel and the related fuel cycle techniques. It is important to improve the logistics of the fuel cycle, for example, in reducing lead-times, eliminating the need to carry large inventories, and making the flow of the material faster and more cost-effective.

In addition, utilities are re-evaluating their policies to reduce their exposure to commercial risk. This affects their decisions on security of supply, diversification of supply, and fuel logistics.

The nuclear fuel industry has, unsurprisingly, gone through a phase of consolidation and restructuring. Mergers and acquisitions have resulted in fewer fabricators, as well as vertical integration of the nuclear fuel industry. These measures are intended to create a more efficient industry.

The TopFuel 2001 conference, which is bwing organised by the Swedish Nuclear Society and sponsored by the European Nuclear Society, Westinghouse Atom, OKG, Studsvik Nuclear and Vattenfall Bränsle, intends to address these issues, and is aimed at those interested in commercial and technical aspects of LWR fuel cycle. About 80 papers will be presented at the conference. which should lead to the provision of technical solutions for better, safer and more economic fuel. There will be sessions on developments in fuel design, in-core fuel management, fuel performance and operating experience.

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