The 2016 World Nuclear University (WNU) Summer Institute ran from 28th June to 5th August in Ottawa, Canada. Here young nuclear professionals from all over the world were able to learn about the context of their role in the global nuclear industry. The WNU also offers great opportunities to work together in international, multi- disciplinary teams in novel areas of study. It accelerates learning and allows development of leadership and communication skills in a safe, educational environment.

Who are we?

We are a group of ten fellows studying at the institute, working together on a project to investigate technical and economic solutions to the challenges of sustainable electricity generation in OECD countries.

We come from eight different countries across four continents, with backgrounds as diverse as reactor operation, oceanography and law.

What did we do?

One output of our project was a presentation to the other fellows, but we also wanted to showcase the opportunities available here to other young nuclear professionals. For this reason, we decided to write an article on our group’s project. We spent two and a half days working together on this, and made the most of the opportunity to learn from each other and our mentor.

We began by deciding on a problem statement: “In the shift to a low carbon electrical grid, how do you achieve affordable, reliable and environmentally conscious sustainability?”

We worked together on a structure for the project so that we could work separately on the different questions, but keep communicating between the groups to maintain a cohesive approach.

What did we learn?

On 25th September 2015 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a set of goals: to end poverty; protect the planet; and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal had specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.

One of the goals, number seven, was about ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

On this basis we chose three key imperatives for electricity generation, against which all current and future options were evaluated. They were:

  • Affordability – the generation of electricity at low enough cost that it can be sold at a price citizens can afford to pay for, without energy poverty or unsustainable government support. We used the UK definition of energy poverty, where a household spends more than ten percent of its income on electricity and heating.
  • Reliability – the ability to robustly and continuously match electricity supply and demand.
  • Environmental sustainability – the minimisation of negative impact on the environment in the generation of electricity.

In our report, we chose the UK and Germany as case study countries to compare current practice.

The technical solutions we evaluated were:

  • Energy storage and loading (ESL) – The grid accepts electricity from every generating technology (or generating station) and finds a load for it without the need for any single electricity generator to follow the load.
  • Mixed electricity generator (MEG) – The grid has several electricity generators with a mixture of types – nuclear, wind and pumped storage – within each generating station. Load following is managed within the generating station by mixing renewable, nuclear and energy storage options.

We concluded that while mixed electricity generation holds exciting possibilities for reliability and environmental sustainability, the high investment costs involved in such a plant, tied with the challenges of finding a site suitable for all associated technologies, would not support economic viability.

However, using energy storage and flexible demand to meet the challenges of a grid with deep penetration of renewables has the potential to meet all three of our imperatives. There is scope for increased use of renewables without causing grid instability, and the range of possibilities for flexible demand could make it economically viable in a range of countries. For example, offering desalination of seawater to provide portable water, producing hydrogen for transportation or employing thermal storage for future electricity generation or other uses.

Our South Korean fellows suggested a phased approach to a fully self sustaining market. It would be based on a government policy of using a carbon tax to invest in accelerated maturation of low carbon technologies and energy storage, so that these can compete economically in a deregulated market.

The aim of the approach outlined is to promote affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable electricity generation, in the current market conditions, and for the future.

While our scope only included OECD countries, discussion with our Kenyan fellow led us to include a discussion point. It said that achieving global energy sustainability is only possible with effective partnerships for energy sustainability between developing and emerging economies. These partnerships would address technology transfer and the development of affordable, environmentally sound technologies.

What next?

We have improved our knowledge and understanding of the role of nuclear in sustainable electricity production, which helps set our own roles in the industry in clearer context. We have also formed an international, cross- functional network, intending to stay in touch after the summer institute and continue to help each other learn and develop.

This project forms just a small part of the WNU summer institute programme, which also involves lectures, invited leader presentations and a week of technical tours to nuclear industry sites in the host country.

If you think you could benefit from this experience and would like to develop your industry knowledge, leadership skills and establish a worldwide network in this way, visit the WNU website at Maybe we’ll see you in Uppsala in 2017.