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« Nuclear energy is one part of move towards low-carbon future: Montek | Main | Doug Casey on Taxes and Freedom »
Thursday
Apr262012

Rosatom could build two nuclear power stations in Britain

This online supplement is produced and published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), which takes sole responsibility for the content.

Britain’s continuing commitment to low-carbon energy may lead to the adoption of Russian nuclear technologies, according to the Telegraph.

Britain’s continuing commitment to low-carbon energy may lead to the adoption of Russian nuclear technologies.

Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, could be about to build two nuclear power stations in Britain. With a growing energy deficit and a commitment to cutting carbon emissions, the British government may find itself faced with an offer they can’t refuse.

Earlier this month, Rosatom said it was mulling over buying a stake in Horizon Nuclear Power after the British energy firm’s parent companies, RWE and E.ON, shelved a joint venture to construct two nuclear power plants at Wylfa, Anglesey and Oldbury, Gloucestershire.

Both German-owned, RWE and E.ON cited increased costs, a longer payback period and Germany’s retreat from the nuclear sector as reasons for their decision.

Before the Fukushima disaster, the world was slowly reverting back to nuclear power in the face of the relentless rises in the price of oil and gas.

Only six months before the disaster, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had reversed a campaign promising to wean Germany off nuclear power, which she reinstated again after the catastrophe.

Germany has been talking about abandoning nuclear power since the early 2000s, and Fukushima was only a formal reason to finally do it,” said Rosatom press officer Vladislav Bochkov.

The demand for nuclear power has not changed; its structure has changed. If 
 before we had clients interested in second-generation nuclear reactors, now everybody wants the safest 3rd generation (and 3+) PWR reactors available. Globally, 
if you compare how many contacts we signed after Fukushima with the number in 2010, it has practically
 doubled,” he says. “If you look at long-term trends to 2030, we now expect a modest 8pc decrease in the number of nuclear plants to be commissioned – 598 against 652 before the disaster.”

The need for nuclear

The British Government finds itself on the horns of a dilemma. Britain used to be a net positive energy producer, following the discovery of oil and natural gas in the North Sea. But as the oil and gas fields neared exhaustion, it went into deficit in 2003.Since 2010 Britain has imported about 40pc of its oil and gas needs, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

An industry study in 2009 found that Britain will face a 20pc generation capacity shortfall by 2015 unless there is significant investment into the British energy sector. “Has any other country, let alone a major economy, experienced such speed and magnitude in its shift of energy systems outside wartime?” asks Chris Vernon of the widely respected Oil Drum magazine.

The British Government energy policy calls for an increase in the share of renewables to 10pc, as part of its commitment to The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan which was adopted in 2009, but progress on this has been slow and the programme has been criticised by industry experts.

The first step will be to close half of its coal-fired power stations by 2015 – they currently account for 40pc of UK power generation – although many see this coal-fired shutdown only exacerbating the energy deficit.

The UK energy and climate change policy is failing, and failing at a high cost,” Professors Pierre Noel and Michael Pollitt of Cambridge University wrote in a paper which was presented to Parliament last year.

Electricity bills are going up as consumers are asked to pay for ever-increasing subsidies to renewable energy, the deployment of which does nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” It is hard to see how the goal will be met without the use of more nuclear power.’

There have been no new nuclear power stations commissioned in Britain since Sizewell B was built in Suffolk in 1995, but in 2009 the Government said it was considering constructing 10 new nuclear facilities.

In the UK, Rosatom already delivers nuclear fuel to the Sizewell B plant, which it produces together with France’s Areva. It has been exporting enriched uranium to British nuclear power stations for decades, while one of its daughter companies, Nukem Technologies, was involved in decomissioning several nuclear sites in Britain.

Possible sites for Rostatom reactors in the UK

Most recently, Rosatom and Rolls-Royce signed a memorandum of co-operation last summer under the eyes of important Russian and British political leaders. “No other country in the world has Rosatom’s experience in building nuclear power plants,” Mr Bochkov is quick to point out.

We have opened 20 nuclear power-generating units worldwide over the past 25 years and currently have 25.2 gigawatts of combined capacity in Russia. We are second only to France’s EDF in total capacity for generating electrical energy.”

In the meantime, energy prices continue to rise sharply. A study last month by investment bank Liberum Capital said British energy bills are set to soar by as much as 70pc to £2,200 a year by 2020 due to the growing energy gap. Energy production is sinking slowly but consumption has risen by 11.3pc between 2001 and 2011, while the cost of energy was up a whopping 23pc over the same 
period.

Safety first

The potential Rosatom deal has inevitably raised the question of safety. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine remains the world’s worst nuclear accident.

However, Rosatom insists that t he Chernobyl experience helped the Russian nuclear industry reach new standards in achieving safe nuclear power. “The Chernobyl accident 26 years ago gave us an additional impulse to develop ever more sophisticated safety systems at our nuclear power plants,” says Mr Bochkov.

The ‘melt trap’ device, which automatically localises any radiation leaks in the event of an emergency within a non-inhabited space, was developed following a comprehensive analysis of the disaster. It’s currently in use at every Russian nuclear power plant.

We’re talking about safety systems that are able to extract heat from the critical part of the reactor amid a complete lack of electricity flowing to the plant,” he continues. “Had these systems been in place at Fukushima, the world would never have heard about that nuclear disaster.”

Shortly after the Fukushima disaster, Rosatom’s head Sergei Kiriyenko went to India to inspect construction of the Russian-built Kudankulam nuclear plant.

He stressed that Russian nuclear power projects meet all the high international safety requirements saying: “Even if, in the wake of Fukushima, you try to imagine what else should be added to the nuclear plant design to enable it to withstand every conceivable combination [of disasters] – earthquakes, tsunamis, power and water supply cuts, and so on – Kudankulam already has them all.”

Rosatom plans to build a total of 38 new reactors at home over the next 20 years, and hopes to sell the new generation 3+ reactors to other countries. As well as India, it has also sealed deals in Ukraine, China, Vietnam, Belarus, Bangladesh and Turkey, offering itself both as a vendor and investor.

Harnessing the power of fusion

Rosatom is conducting research into thermonuclear power through participation in the Iter (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) in the south of France.

The project, which involves the EU and six other states, aims to create a fully functioning fusion power plant which has the potential to solve global energy problems via a relatively cheap, safe and practically limitless source of energy.

Rosatom has also independently developed the Iskra-6 and Angara-5-1 lasers, which have the capability to heat fusion pellets and facilitate the realisation of fusion technology.

The company is also developing clean sources of energy – predominantly wind power – alongside nuclear power.

Nuclear power should provide the basis of a sustainable energy system and be balanced with other factors, like wind and solar power, which are less reliable, but important sources of energy,” said Rosatom press officer Vladislav Bochkov. 

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