Nuclear NIMBYism – redux

I’ve mentioned the hypocrisy of Nuclear NIMBYism in an archipelagic-wide energy grid previously [and it’s as alive and well as ever – Ed], so it’s good to see the Republic of Ireland’s Energy Minister, Eamon Ryan, calling for a reasoned debate on the issue, “so that the real science and the energy policy issues can be debated in detail”, at the same time that the UK government published a white paper on proposals to support the building of new nuclear facilities. Although, as a Guardian report points out, finance remains a major, but not the only, issue. Cian at Irish Election also adds some interesting points which apply to both discussions.

The options such as wave, solar and bio-fuel will be compared and contrasted to the range, availability and use of nuclear. It may finally give a serious direction on which options will provide the most rounded approach to lowering CO2 emissions. The real worry is that this debate only spawns more debates, committes, taskforces and zero decision making.

The Irish Labour Party statement, linked earlier, on the proposed debate is worth quoting

The Labour Party view is that Ireland should concentrate its efforts on building inter-connectors with Britain as Eirgrid plans to do and to proceed to build further inter-connectors to mainland Europe so that we can share electricity generated from wind and wave and make an important contribution towards reducing carbon emissions in the most appropriate way.

How many wind farms would you need build to be in a position where you could export the energy generated? Just a thought..

Adds At least the Northern Ireland Executive’s Energy minister acknowledges some of the limitations involved

Mr Dodds continued: “However, the main source of renewable energy in Northern Ireland, the wind, cannot be relied on to blow all of the time and we will continue to need a balanced mix of fuel sources to ensure a reliable electricity supply for consumers.

“With the advent of the Single Electricity Market it makes sense to work with the Irish energy sector on the ability of the electrical power systems to handle additional renewable generation to 2020 and beyond. I will examine this report over the coming months, working with my counterpart in the Irish Republic, Minister Eamon Ryan and other stakeholders.”

And from the report mentioned, an analysis of impacts and benefits associated with various scenarios for increased shares of electricity sourced from renewable energy in the all island power system.- available here [pdf file] – Study overview here

Cautions

The benefits of renewable electricity generation may be lower than estimated and some associated costs are likely to be higher than estimated by this study. There is a risk that, due to the limitations of the models used, in particular the instantaneous amount of wind under dynamic conditions, the extent of curtailment of renewable generation, especially wind, at times of low demand has been underestimated significantly. The effect of such an underestimate is to overstate the CO2, fuel usage and cost benefits of renewable generation and to underestimate the cost of renewable support payments required. The network model in work stream 3 did not account for the need for maintenance, which will have the effect of increasing reinforcement costs and/or curtailing wind. The model for evaluating the cost of support assumed a perfectly efficient support mechanism. In practice there are certain inefficiencies inherent in support mechanisms and thus the results may underestimate the costs associated with the support required.

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  • harry

    i wouldnt worry too much about nuclear power stations popping up overnight. it could be a good twenty years before the new generation announced today would be online.

    and apart from the investment from private companies required, there is a greater need for, and less chance of getting, appropiately qualified graduates capable of building and running such plants.

    and given Ruane’s eager desire to dumb down education here, it is unlikely we will be seeing too many budding nuclear scientists in the near future.

  • The decision (in terms of England and Wales) is long overdue; deferred by Thatcher’s “dash for gas” to some extent. What bets, had we been subjected to the November General Election, any Energy Secretary would be making the same announcement right about now? Note how the Tories have promptly come on board.

    Sitting with reserves of wind, wave and tidal energy still to tap, Scotland, NI and the RoI (perhaps even Wales, though the Assembly and Anglesey seem at odds) can sit and wring their hands just a bit longer, pay a bit more (which seems to be Eamon Ryan’s beef), and (in a crisis) import. Less so the English: curious (isn’t it?) how this takes devolution in reverse: and who’s griping now?

    Yes, there are all kinds of “ishoos”: the main one, as Pete Baker’s intro suggests, is finance rather than cost.

    The French are apparently going for at least 19 new stations: great for economies of scale, perhaps. So can expect the building and running to be in the hands of Areva (France), RWE and E.ON (both German). With some thirty-odd nuclear plants actually now being built (and some 90 planned), could we have a moment’s respectful silence for another great British industry lost and gone forever?

    About the only new factor in a well-worn debate is the two-year delay to the commissioning of Olkiluoto 3. However, that’s not going to stop the usual rehashing of old arguments, is it?

  • joeCanuck

    Although I have to declare an interest (I was once a Manager in a Nuclear Power plant), I believe that most countries in the world will have to have a substantial proportion of their energy supply mix as nuclear, in the short term (100 years).

  • Turgon

    Malcolm,

    You are of course correct. Britain once led the world at nuclear electricity generation. The British invented Advanced Gas cooled Reactor (AGR) was more efficient and despite some problems safer than the American designed pressurised Water Reactors. My father who once worked for the nuclear industry (and is my source of knowledge regarding this since I do not know) recalls that a television reporter asked a British nuclear scientist at the time of the Three Mile Island reactor problem what the British would do. Apparently the answer was “Have a cup of tea” because it would have taken hours for any dangerous problem to occur and could extremely easily have been prevented.

    We also, I believe, produced the first Fast Breeder Reactor which, using uranium 238 rather than 235 as a fuel means that there is approximately 100 times as much potential fuel. Admittedly it does this by producing plutonium which would clearly be of interest to extremely undesirable people.

  • Phil

    Malcolm,

    The chances of these power stations being built anywhere other than England are zero. England as you know has no political voice and as such the UK government are free to do as they please here.

    Joe,

    Did you have a personal assistant called Smithers by any chance?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I am very much pro-nuclear, and I would be happy to support the construction of a single nuclear plant here in NI to replace the smelly coal/oil burning ones that we’ve currently got. While to some extent the issue of waste disposal is the elephant in the room, nuclear delivers many benefits including a stable supply and a reduction in carbon emissions. Coal power plants in particular eject millions of tonnes of mildly radioactive dust into the atmosphere every year.

    Turgon, the nuclear industry in Britain didn’t get off to a good start with Windscale, but I agree that the Brits were there first with the gas-cooled, magnox and fast breeder reactors. But the world moved on, and all those techniques have turned out to be more expensive to keep running than the BWR and PWR designs.

    The PWR reactors are very safe and efficient, but I’m hopeful that the Brits take a long hard look at the CANDU reactors used in Spain. They can take Uranium-238 and they have an excellent operational record. I believe that the CANDU can also consume plutonium and other nuclear materials recovered from unused nuclear weapons.

    I’m very excited about ITER. If that gets off the ground it will truly be the way of the future.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Although I have to declare an interest (I was once a Manager in a Nuclear Power plant), I believe that most countries in the world will have to have a substantial proportion of their energy supply mix as nuclear, in the short term (100 years). ‘

    Barring a major breakthrough in energy technology I agree . We can only hope that the Irish/Northern Ireland decision makers don’t wait until oil is 200 dollars a barrel before they make a positive decision in favour of nuclear power.

    M.Redfellow

    ‘could we have a moment’s respectful silence for another great British industry lost and gone forever?

    Does a cuppa tea count as respectful :)?

  • Comrade Stalin

    CANDU reactors used in Spain.

    That should of course be Canada. Darn.

  • joeCanuck

    No Phil; my post was here in Canada.
    Well corrected Comrade. We haven’t sold one to Spain – yet.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Joe,

    You must have some interesting points of view, if you’re Canadian and you managed a nuclear power plant it follows that it must have been a CANDU 🙂 If you were selling a CANDU to someone, what significant points make it better than a PWR ? The UK already has the enrichment capability (presumably at Sellafield) so there is no need for the expensive deuterium moderator.

    How’s Advanced CANDU coming along ?

  • joeCanuck

    The two most significant factors I believe, Comrade, are that it uses natural Uranium so no need for enrichment (Iran has probably cornered the market in purchase of centrifuges) and that it is designed to refuel on-line, so can run for much longer than a PWR thus reducing the amount of expensive downtime.

    I’ve been out of touch for a few years but I understand that the Advanced Candu design is rolling along smoothly with in-service date of around 2015. It should be a great success.

  • aquifer

    I was surprised to hear that there is not much more easily accessible nuclear fuel about than oil and gas. Do these nuclear costs we hear bandied about include the cleanup costs? It would be a pity to still be paying for something long after it stopped working.

    If we stick to the ‘no subsidy’ line we will never see nuclear in Ireland.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I was surprised to hear that there is not much more easily accessible nuclear fuel about than oil and gas. Do these nuclear costs we hear bandied about include the cleanup costs? It would be a pity to still be paying for something long after it stopped working.

    The UK government seems to be effectively underwriting the nuclear companies by agreeing to front the cleanup costs if they are unable to do so themselves. There is no mention of any particular incentives to ensure that those firms ensure that they are “able” when the time comes. I think they should do more research into how to make the power stations last longer.

    If we stick to the ‘no subsidy’ line we will never see nuclear in Ireland.

    I’m not sure that Ireland’s size and scale are well-matched for nuclear TBH.

  • joeCanuck

    Ireland is too small. Without getting too technical, to minimise blackouts, you have to have a unit or units equivalent to the size of your largest unit on-line sitting, spinning, on standby. In N.I. that would mean 3 or 4 units sitting doing nothing, using up energy.

    Regarding clean-up costs, the money to do it should be set aside continually with the cost added to the electricity rates.

    At present usage, there are around 400-500 years supplies of Uranium proven. Expanded prospecting would be sure to find more.
    Incidentally, that is why I said in the short term (100 years).

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ireland may be better off positioning itself to import electricity while maintaining a small-scale strategic generating capability at home.

    I would almost suggest that the UK government would be better charging a nuclear power cleanup levy, that would go into a ringfenced fund somewhere.

    Yeah, I didn’t think uranium supplies were a problem. Hopefully we’ll have DEMO (ITER’s successor) up and running before that day comes.

  • Turgon

    joe,

    Re uranium supplies being 400-500 years. Is that using your cool breeders or using PWRs etc?

  • joeCanuck

    Good question, Turgon; made me think more. And I now think that the figure may be the amount in Canada that we need for our existing CANDU reactors.
    I will dig some more (excuse the pun) tomorrow and get back on that.

  • abucs

    Hi Joe,

    what is the level of security needed for current nuclear reactors ?

    Would there be any radio-active contamination from say, a missile strike, against a reactor ?

    What danger could some group do if they intercepted the waste from one of these reactors ?

    I’m not against nuclear energy, just interested in knowing the details.

  • Eamon Ryan has called for a reasoned debate on the issue, however all his commentary has been to suggest that while debate is welcome, the answer (i.e. no to nuclear power) is predecided.

    Anyway, if you want a perfect example of hypocrisy on nuclear power look at Eamon Ryan’s committment to an inter-connector, but opposition to uranium mining.

    http://www.semper-idem.eu/index.php?blog=7&cat=28