Public Acceptance and Concerns about Nuclear Waste
Public attitudes will be crucial in determining whether nuclear
technologies are part of the portfolio of energy technologies on which the world
relies to confront the challenges of the twenty-first century. Two persistent questions
are “What is safe enough?” and “What are we going to do about
the waste?” Switching from active to passive safety features is a key component
of addressing the safety question. Long-term dry cask storage addresses the second
question. However, in the very long-term, we will need to develop and implement
an acceptable strategy for the disposal of high-level waste and used nuclear fuel.
Thus, for the next few decades, the long-term waste issue will remain a nettlesome
problem for nuclear energy.
The Investment Barrier
In a highly stressed credit market, the price tag for nuclear construction—
at least in the Western world—is too high. The latest overnight cost estimates
for a dual-unit nuclear plant with an aggregate capacity of 2,236 MW is $5700 per
kilowatt,28 a doubling in estimated
overnight costs over the last 3-4 years. The investment community has shown an increasing
interest in SMR designs because of these escalating costs and related financial
ANL, as part of its update of the 2004 economic study The Economic Future of Nuclear
Power, is conducting an extensive analysis of the life-cycle costs of both
large reactors and SMRs. The revised study will also offer detailed insights into
the recent cost increases. The study team is consulting with nuclear vendors (including
B&W, NuScale, and Westinghouse) to ensure that the nuclear utility industry
plays an integral part in the analysis.
The updated study will focus on key parameters and policy options and will address
issues President Obama identified in a recent address on U.S. energy policy.
The study team will use cost estimates for factory-produced modular
units and compare this methodology to construction practices used in building larger
units. A detailed sensitivity analysis will be performed on the key design and manufacturing
parameters. This task requires collaboration with vendors to obtain data on
- modularization practices;
- factory designs and manufacturing;
- factory assembly versus field assembly; and
- learning-by-doing in both manufacturing and construction.
Nuclear Energy Demand in Asia
In Asia, 115 nuclear power reactors are in operation, 39 are under
construction, and firm plans exist to build an additional 87. If an additional 185
proposed reactors are eventually deployed, this would represent an aggregate electrical
capacity of more than 400 GWe in the region. In 2010 alone, this region has exhibited
four out of the five units connected to the grid and seven out of the ten where
construction has been initiated. Much of the expansion of nuclear power in this
region is driven by concerns about energy security, and thus the financing concerns
that dominate in the Western world are not as prominent and determinative here.
The Emerging Roles of China, Russia, the Republic of Korea, and India
The future economics of nuclear energy will be determined, in part,
by the tooling up and supply chain improvements currently underway in Russia and
several non-Western states. Russian and Chinese suppliers will soon meet the needs
of their domestic markets and are beginning to ramp up in the expectation of large-scale
exports. Korean industry provides components internationally and by 2013 will possess
the capacity to forge even the largest nuclear plant components.30
The Republic of Korea’s new very heavy forging capacity
will join that of Japan (JSW), China (China First Heavy Industries), and Russia
(OMX Izhora). Japan and Korea are already building further capacity (JSW and Doosan,
respectively), as is France (Le Creusot), and new capacity is planned in both the
United Kingdom (Sheffield Forgemasters) and India (Larsen & Toubro).
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) recently announced it has signed a nuclear power
plant development agreement with India’s top engineering and construction
company, Larsen & Toubro Ltd. The agreement with L&T is an important part
of GEH’s strategy to establish an extensive network of local suppliers to
help build a future GEH-designed Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) power station
in India. The power station is one of several being planned by India to increase
the country’s nuclear generation capacity more than tenfold over the next
two decades—from 4.1 GW today to 60 GW by 2030. The nuclear power initiative
is a key part of India’s broader plan to expand its energy infrastructure
to meet the country’s surging demands for electricity.
Government Support and Partnerships
The U.S. nuclear industry (specifically GE) has expressed frustration
that U.S. private industry nuclear developers must compete against government-supported
foreign enterprises. Nuclear power in China, Russia, the Republic of Korea, Canada,
and France is essentially a government-supported enterprise.
- The French government owns 91 percent of AREVA31 and 85 percent of EDF.
- The Republic of Korea owns essentially
all the technology for the KSNP design (OPR-1000). Two units (Shin Kori Units 3
and 4) are being constructed by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) using the
APR-1400 design model, which has a capacity 1.4 times higher than the OPR-1000.
These plants are owned and operated by KEPCO, a company representing a number of
independently operating power generating subsidiaries.32
- China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is designing
the CPR1000 reactor, and the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC)
is designing the AP-1000 and AP-1400.33
SNPTC recently announced that ten state-owned enterprises have qualified to supply
- In Japan, the government encourages companies to establish
conglomerates. Toshiba and Hitachi have partnered to build four ABWRs in Japan.
However, Japan’s main focus is on exports. The Japan Bank of International
Cooperation provides partial funding for building Toshiba reactors outside of Japan,
and Nippon Export and Investment Insurance provides credit for the export of nuclear
power plant components.
- AECL, owned by the Canadian government, is funding
the ACR, with small contributions by industry partners.
- Russia is a serious
player financing its own technology in India, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.
The Coal Repower, “Thread the Needle” Issue
The paradigm for GEN III+ plants is evolving. If they can be designed,
manufactured, and operated economically to replace aging coal plants, the opportunities
for nuclear energy to mitigate climate change will be enhanced. The ANL study will
analyze this possibility.
The electric grid infrastructure in many parts of the world is unable
to support the deployment of large nuclear power plants. Deployed systems must be
appropriate to the scale of the national electric grid and other institutional capabilities.
For example, building gigawatt-scale nuclear plants assumes the presence of an appropriately
scaled electric grid infrastructure. If this infrastructure is not present, and
it is not in many developing countries, then different technologies are needed,
namely, grid-appropriate (modular) nuclear reactors. However, the economics of SMRs
must be carefully considered. The ANL study will analyze the economic opportunities
of deploying SMR technology.
Today, large plants operating in the United States set a high standard for safety,
availability, and cost competitiveness. To enter this marketplace successfully,
SMR and Gen IV designs must offer a compelling promise of even higher performance
or serve a new mission such as waste disposition. In overseas markets, considerations
other than economics—for example, energy security—may be determinative,
but the economics of nuclear power vis-à-vis its alternatives will also play
an important role. Additional development and demonstration is required to bring
overnight costs for SMRs to a point that is comparable to commercial-size Gen III
units (Figure 3). Finally, the nonproliferation and safety benefits of SMRs will
remain unclear until more SMR specifications are known.
Figure 3. Costs of SMRs
For SMRs to be economically feasible, their overnight cost must
be comparable (on a cost per kWe basis) to the overnight cost of large nuclear plants.
Provided by and reprinted with permission of Westinghouse Electric Corporation.