Key industry figures at the World Nuclear Association (formerly the Uranium Institute) annual symposium envisaged nuclear power featuring prominently in the 21st century. At the symposium, representatives from Europe, Japan and the USA provided some insight into how such a revival could take place.

Industrial action

The actual form of a possible new nuclear build varies from country to country. Chief Executive Officer of BNFL, Norman Askew, said that the present conditions in the United Kingdom made the prospect of new nuclear build unlikely. He pointed out that the planning and regulatory approval processes need to be streamlined. There has to be a change in government policy first, without which a nuclear renaissance is impossible.

In addition, the country should decide on a policy for spent fuel and waste management. Nuclear “is the only energy source that pays its waste costs,” Mr Askew said, whereas fossil fuels can use the environment to dump their waste. “Anyone wanting to build needs to know the cost obligations for wastes.”

Mr Askew’s point — that if the political conditions are right, then more nuclear plants are likely to follow — is illustrated by the situation in Finland. Once a nation has decided what to do with its waste, it is then in a strong position to consider a new reactor.

Mauno Paavola, president and CEO of Teollisuuden Voima Oy, said: “The main reasons for good experiences in the use of nuclear power are political stability in Finland, progressive nuclear legislation and strict but clear safety requirements.”

Tomorrow’s generation

On the subject of the next generation of reactors, Corbin McNeill, chairman and co-CEO of Exelon, told the meeting that “the best way is to build small plants over periods of 18-24 months for modest sums of money.”

Mr McNeill is confident that the 110MWe pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) will figure prominently in the future. Exelon has joined in a consortium with BNFL to support South Africa’s Eskom to develop the PBMR.

As well as its interest in the PBMR, BNFL is also confident that the AP600 or AP1000 reactors will be “competitive with any other source.” Mr Askew said BNFL is in a good position to take advantage of a nuclear resurgence, should it happen: “We have reactors we believe are competitive, and it is up to the market whether to bring these into the marketplace.”

Although sharing in the general feeling of optimism, Dominique Vignon, president and CEO of Framatome ANP, sounded a note of caution. “The nuclear industry would be making a mistake, however, if it inferred that new, competitive, safe products were already available when, in fact, they are only on the drawing board,” he said.

“I am referring specifically to high temperature reactors here. Although their potential is well known we still have to analyse their safety in terms of the intangible defence in depth principle: what containment is needed to ensure safety from internal accidents or external hazards? We must also remember that they consume more uranium and separative work units than light water reactors, and require enrichment levels that current plants are not licensed to handle.”

Valentin Ivanov, first deputy minister of Minatom, said that Russia had chosen to develop fast reactors with closed fuel cycle over the next decade (see related articles for a full report on the Russian programme).

The key to our future

One of the main points made by several speakers was on the need to bring about a change in public opinion on nuclear power. Although this point is not a new one, there was a strong emphasis on the industry taking an active role in this area — after all, who else is going to argue in favour or it?

Toshiaki Enomoto, managing director of the nuclear power division at Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), referred to the negative vote by Kariwa villagers on the loading of MOX fuel at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. Dr Enomoto stressed the importance of communication and believes that Tepco will be able to turn round the negative public opinion.

WNA director general John Ritch and chairman Agneta Rising both stressed that the industry must be active in educating the general public on nuclear issues. “There is a thorough ignorance of how this industry runs and how safe it is,” Mr Ritch said.

The industry is not well-known for being outgoing and informative. If this state of affairs does not change, it is hard to see how all this talk of a new generation of nuclear power will amount to more than just talk.
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