Whipping a Dying Horse
In 2012, nuclear power's share
in global energy production declined to
10.8 percent, down from 17.6 percent at its peak in 1996. This proportion has changed little over the past three years. In this period, its share of global commercial primary energy production plunged to 4.5 percent, a level last seen in 1984. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014 & 2015, authored by Mycle Schneider and Antony Patrick Froggatt, the peak of nuclear electricity production (as distinct from its share in total global energy production) was reached in 2006. For the number of operating reactors, the peak was reached in 2002. Now there are about 47 fewer operating reactors compared to the highest industry peak in 2002. It now stands at 391.
Nuclear power industry is plagued with high costs and construction delays. The average age of nuclear reactors is 28.5 years. Of the 62 reactors with a total capacity of 59 GWe that are being built the world over as on July 2015, at least 49 of them, mostly in China, have encountered construction delays, hence increase in capital cost. In 10 of the 14 countries that are building new reactors, all projects are delayed, many by years, including high-profile projects like the Generation-Ill reactors Olkiluoto-3 in Finland mid Flamanville-3 in France. The Olkiluoto-3 reactor building surpassed its tenth anniversary in August 2015 and its owner has stopped announcing planned start-up dates. Five reactors are "under construction" for more than 30 years ago. In 2010, Construction started for 15 reactors. The number reduced to 3 in 2014, one each in Argentina; Belarus and the United Arab Emirates (Uarakah-3).
In terms of actual production of electricity, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Spain (this includes three of the world's four largest economies) generate more electricity from non-hydro renewable than from nuclear power. These eight countries represent 45 percent of the world's population. In China, in 2014, electricity production from wind alone exceeded that from nuclear (the situation was almost the same in the preceding two years). The same thing is happening in India for last few years. In the UK, renewable, including hydropower, overtook nuclear output for the first time in 2014. Since 2001, the average growth rate for renewable energy generation in the US has been five percent per year. Of the total electricity production in the US, 13 percent was generated by renewable in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2007. Compared to 1997, when Kyoto Protocol on climate change was signed, additional 694 TWh of wind and 185 TWh of solar photovoltaic electricity were globally produced in 2014. Each exceeding nuclear power's additional 147 TWh.
After Fukushima, Japan stopped the inspection and safety improvements of its 50 reactors: excepting one all remained closed until recently. Germany will eventually shut down all its 17 reactors as part of transition to renewable energy (it has already shut down 9 of the 17). Even China, with two dozen nuclear plants under construction, faces uncertainties. If the country can exploit its abundant reserves of shale gas, its nuclear plans may be derailed. Electricity from low -cost gas is priced so low that nuclear plants cannot compete. Besides, China's rate of economic growth has declined recently, so the impetus to developing more nuclear power may be hampered. On the other hand, some nations have abandoned nuclear power altogether.
A 1000 megawatt nuclear power plant normally takes 10 years to build. In 10 years, the energy world radically changes. To propose huge centralized model in a world that now increasingly prefers small-scale and decentralized is unreasonable.
If one tries to reduce carbon emissions through nuclear that will be too expensive; the countries would have to build a couple of thousand nuclear power plants. Nowadays, plants are even more expensive, because of new safety requirements in the wake of Fukushima. Operating costs are also increasing. Generating costs hiked 16 percent over the last three years in France. Five US nuclear reactors have been shut down because of high operating costs, with 38 other nuclear reactors in danger of shutdown for economic reasons.
In the USA, France and Japan, three countries with the largest installed capacity, the nuclear industry is in deep trouble. Although Japan still has 40 reactors that are counted as installed capacity, none of them operated in 2014. Japan was without nuclear electricity for an entire calendar year in 2014, the first lime in 50 years. As of today, besides the reactor already restarted in Sendai, it appears that one more reactor will be restarted in Japan in the near future.
In these circumstances, the International Energy Agency's "World Economic Outlook 2014" report observed: The growth of nuclear power will be concentrated in markets where electricity is supplied at regulated prices, utilities have state backing or governments act to facilitate private investment. Nuclear power faces major challenges in competitive markets where there are significant market and regulatory risks.
Generation III reactors, such as the Westinghouse's AP1OOO and Areva's European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) are designed to improve the safety and economics of nuclear power. These reactors are not easy to build. By July 2015, 18 Generation III reactors were under construction in the world, but only two projects were still on schedule, the rest were running behind by two to nine years. This includes the AP1000s being built at the Summer and Vogtle nuclear plants in the United States, which after only over two years of construction are late by two years. Generation III reactors were originally seen as a transition to even more advanced Generation IV reactors or Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), but if Generation III reactors fail, the future for the nuclear industry looks bleak. Generation IV reactors are still decades away from commercial deployment. Meantime, existing nuclear plants around the world are tending towards retirement.
The first EPR of 1650 MWe was ordered in 2005 by Finland for their Olikiluoto site, commercial operation was expected in 2012. Now the earliest projected date for completion of the EPR is 2018. The estimated cost has risen from US$3.6b to US$9.5b. This was due to financial mismanagement with soaring costs and huge environmental concerns and litigation in both the criminal and ciivil courts and other reasons. Finnish Electricity Company TVO and Areva/Siemens are locked in a €10 billion legal battle over the cost overruns. In this situation Finland cancelled its option for a second EPR at Olikiluoto.
A number of countries—the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic among others have pulled back from earlier interest in new EPR reactors.
In 2009, Italian utility Enel and EDF planned to build four EPRs but that plan was scrapped after Italy's June 2011 referendum which rejected nuclear power. The United Arab Emirates chose South Korean reactor technology over EPRs.
An agreement was signed to build two EPRs at India's Jaitapur site in 2010. Construction was to start in 2013 but unresolved issues like financial arrangements and protests against nuclear power continue to delay the project.
The UK government showed keen interest to press ahead with a twin EPR reactor 3.2 GW power plant at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. EDF and Areva submitted their power plant design, the EPR, in August 27 2014, to begin safety checks by regulators. The project is now in a shambles. No order has yet been signed even though Areva subsidiary Creusot Forge has already forged its pressure vessels.
In the US, a total of seven EPRs were planned at six sites. Four EPR construction license applications were submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) but all four applications have been abandoned or suspended. In February 2015, Areva asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the US to suspend work on EPR design certification until further notice.
The two EPRs under construction in China are 13-15 months behind schedule. The construction might also be affected since the pressure vessels for those reactors were also made by the same company (Creusot Forge). China will not load fuel at the Taishan EPRs until safety issues have been resolved. It is doubtful whether two additional EPRs planned for the same site will proceed, and EPRs will be built at other sites. If Areva is to secure even a dozen orders by 2030, it will need further orders from China. Besides the pressure vessels stalemate, the Chinese find the reactors built by Areva and Westinghouse too expensive. If the pressure vessel problem is not resolved, the under-construction EPRs becomes uncertain and possibility of further orders is doomed. More than a decade after the first EPR was ordered, there is not a single working example of the reactor and the earliest projected date for completion of the first EPR is 2018.
Nuclear industry's track record of delays and cost overruns, coupled with the present urgency of replacing fossil fuels with efficiency improvements and low-carbon sources of energy, do not bode well for the long-term future of the industry. How the nuclear power industry is performing in countries at the forefront of nuclear power is self revealing.
The United States is the world's largest producer of nuclear power, with 99 operating reactors providing about 19 percent of the nation's electricity (98.7 GWe). At the end of 1991, there was 97.14 GWe of nuclear capacity in the USA. In two decades, the US nuclear capacity has increased only by 1.5 GWe. More than half of the US fleet of nuke power plants will soon surpass the 40-year lifespan, but most of them have already secured 20-year extensions. There was premature shutdown of fifteen reactors for high operating costs since 1995. There has been a net increase of generating capacity due to increase in power ratings and two new reactors have started, adding an additional capacity of 3.47 GWe. Since 2001, US nuclear plants have achieved an average capacity factor of over 90%. In the early 1970s, it was just 50%.
Since 2005, there has been a renewed interest in nuclear power in the US. This has been facilitated by the Federal government with the Nuclear Power 2010 Programme of 2002 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Both the Bush and Obama administrations sought to expand the loan guarantees for nuclear power. Congress made the federal loan-guarantee programme for nuclear plants in 2005. Nuclear industry gained a number of benefits through the 2005 Energy Policy Act, including new tax credits, loan guarantees and insurance against regulatory delays. These steps were taken with the intention to restart the nuclear expansion that had grounded to a halt following the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. The stimulus worked, and the "nuclear renaissance" was well underway by late 2005. At that time natural gas prices had been very high and electricity customer were slapped with very high bills. With the risk and cost of construction, operation and nuclear waste disposal being borne or subsidized by taxpayers and electricity customers, building new plants also appealed to the utilities.
But the price of natural gas fell in late 2008 due to the recession and an unexpected increase in production of shale gas. The US natural gas prices came down to $1.91 per million Btu in April 2012 from $15 per million in late 2005. The government R&D funding for nuclear energy was revived with the objective of rebuilding US leadership nuclear technology. Meanwhile the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission had received 31 applications for permission to construct new nuclear power reactors by early 2009. But most of the new applications had been abandoned due to the low cost of electricity generated with natural gas, which was 4 cents a kilowatt hour versus 10 cents or more for nuclear.
Out of the four new reactors being constructed, two are being built at Georgia's Vogtle plant and two at the Virgil C Summer plant in South Carolina. Both projects are behind schedule and substantially over budget. Those four are hopelessly uneconomic but continue to be constructed because their state legislatures are committed to finishing them for the law allows them to extract dollars from the power consumer's pocket. It was in 2013 that the first project was approved—a $6.5 billion loan was granted to help Georgia utilities construct the nuclear reactors in more than three decades. Construction on a fifth reactor, at Watts Bar-2 in Tennessee, was restarted after an 18-year gap. Walts Bar-2 holds the world record for the longest gestation of any nuclear plant in history, being listed as "under construction" for 43 years. The project was launched in 1972 and suspended in 1985, when it was already 60% complete. By then it crossed the initial cost estimate of about $400 million to some $1.7 billion. The total COST is now estimated at $6.1 billion. All these reactors are located in the regulated states. There are long delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns.
Now a court ruling in June 2012 blocked the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission from issuing new reactor licenses or renewals until it sufficiently assesses the risks of storing spent radioactive fuel at nuclear plant sites. Along with a string of plant closures, project cancellations and other setbacks raised doubts about the future of nuclear power in the United States. Economic, regulatory and political considerations have led to the premature closure of some power reactors, where number of reactors has fallen from 110 to 99.
The Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor had been the target of years of protests and lawsuits by state officials and environmentalists about safety and radioactive waste. The plant was upgraded and was licensed to operate until 2032. But it had become unprofitable, a victim largely of lower electricity prices due to cheap natural gas. Ultimately it was closed in December 2014. These reactors operate in open markets and have to beat out other power suppliers to win customers and long-term supply contracts. Their power is too expensive due to rising operating and maintenance costs to sell profitably in wholesale markets. Competition from natural gas as well as carbon-free wind and solar power producers could push more than such 30 US reactors to the brink of economic abandonment.
Nuclear plants in regulated markets are typically owned by the region's incumbent utility, so they don't have to compete against lower-cost power producers. State regulators decide how much the utility can charge from its customers for electricity, based on how much it costs the utility to provide the power, maintain the plants and facilities along with a profit margin. Regulated utilities that undertake big-maintenance budget, such as replacing a nuclear plant's steam generators, can pass those costs on to its customers by raising rates. Now state regulators are increasingly questioning the economics of costly retrofits and upgrades. Some states have begun pressing utilities to pay for cost overruns and expensive mistakes on different projects due to severe economic pressures.
The Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe gave birth to fears about the safety of nuclear plants and reinvigorated opposition to license renewals, new reactors in the USA that has about two dozens of Fukushima type operating reactors. So the US regulators were forced to execute potentially costly upgrades to plant security and safety systems. By that time deep recession cut overall electricity demand and a push for more wind and solar power generation changed the competitive scenario, lowering wholesale prices in some markets.
Beyond five reactors under construction, few if any others are likely to be built in the near future. Most of the running plants will reach the end of their useful lives by the mid-century. So nuclear power will play a diminishing role in the United States. The industry is facing trouble in maintaining the status quo. Market forces, enormous construction costs, long-term storage of spent fuel, and high level radioactive waste issues, and public perception about safety after the Fukushima disaster have all had an effect on the American nuclear industry. A widespread shift toward small-scale power production closer to homes and businesses would make nuclear power less attractive further.
Nuclear plants were expensive in build, produce waste that is impossible to dispose of safely and generate power far more expensive than had been projected. Now American nuclear reactors and equipment makers have focused on overseas markets.
France is for long the world's role model for how to successfully develop nuclear energy. But its National Assembly passed an energy bill that makes a target to reduce nuclear power's share of electricity from three-quarters to half by 2025. On the other hand a new report by ADEME, a French government agency under the Ministries of Ecology and Research, concludes that a 100% renewable electricity supply scenario is feasible in France. The report estimates that the electricity production cost would be €119 per megawatt-hour in 2050 in the all-renewables scenario compared with a near- identical figure of €117/MWh with a mix of 50% nuclear, 40% renewables and 10% fossil fuels.
The French state-controlled energy nuclear major Areva went technically bankrupt after reporting massive losses for four years in a row. Credit-rating agencies have downgraded Areva's long-term debt to "junk.'' The company's share price plunged to a record low in 2014, a level 90 percent below its record high in 2007. The EPR fiasco could tip Areva into bankruptcy. Areva posted a £4.83 billion (US$ 5.4b) loss for 2014 and is negotiating a rescue package with the French government. In addition to Areva's financial woes, the pressure vessels for the Flamanville (France) have been detected to have "very serious" material defects, the French Nuclear Safety Authority told a parliamentary hearing about that in April 2015.
On 7th April 2015, the French Nuclear Safety Authority announced that fabrication defects had been found in the reactor pressure vessel of the Flamanville EPR. Tests revealed areas with high carbon concentration resulting in lower than expected mechanical toughness values. If remedial action is required, it could be extremely expensive and problematic for Areva because the pressure vessel has already been installed in the Flamanville EPR. In that case either EDF another French nuclear major, would abandon the Flamanville project or it would take out the vessel and starts building a new one. This would be a very heavy operation in terms of cost and delay. Areva is trying to get further orders in France. But that will depend partly on debates over future reliance on nuclear power and other electricity sources, and a debate over permitted lifetimes for the current fleet of reactors.
EDF, which has the benefit of still making profits, may buy Areva. But Areva would be a significant liability in both the short and the long term, draining EDF cash as it has to budget for a large programme of expensive nuclear plant closures in France, which will also make it unable to invest in the new generation capacity.
Since the Fukushima disaster, Areva's reprocessing unit has lost nearly all its international customers. The company's 'back-end' sales-reprocessing and decommi-ssioning have fallen from €2 billion in 2004 to €1.53 billion in 2014.
Japan was the world's third biggest user of nuclear power before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It had planned to increase nuclear's share of the energy mix to 50% by 2030. The Fukushima disaster destroyed that plan.
Not long after the Fukushima accident Naoro Kan Government (Democratic Party of Japan or DJP) announced a policy of gradually phasing out nuclear power. There after Kan's successor Yoshohiko Noda (DJP) also strongly supported renewable energy to comprise about 30% of Japan's future energy mix, an eightfold rise from 2010 level and the development of sustainable ways to use fossil fuels. Noda will be hoping that the decision boosts support for his administration ahead of a general election. But that did not happen.
The more conservative, pro-nuclear party (Conservative Liberal Democratic Party or LDP) that replaced it in 2012, led by Shinzo Abe has won two subsequent parliamentary elections, supposedly for its measures on the economic front, despite its unpopular stance on nuclear energy. Its support has recently slipped, amidst a separate political battle over defence policy. So the restarting of the Sendai nuclear reactor No. I recently comes at a delicate time.
Plans to restart nuclear reactors have been in place since the revised safety regulations were introduced more than two years ago. The plants need to be fitted with new ventilation systems and other protection. The Sendai plant was declared safe by regulators over a year ago, in September 2014. The operators needed to court local political leaders for endorsements to start the plant.
Some of the 40 operable reactors around the country are considered too old to be worth the cost of retrofitting to meet the new safety standards. Concerns about earthquake faults found under or near others have denied them approval from the government regulatory body. Neuclear power companies have applied for safety certification for 25 units. So far only five, including the one restarted at Sendai, have been cleared by the regulators. Of the other remaining nuclear reactors in the country, just seven are likely to be switched on in the next few years. The present situation has caused concern among Japan's allies. Japan provides nuclear technology expertise to companies in the US, while France and Britain, which reprocess its spent nuclear fuel, have sought assurances that it will continue to accept high-level radioactive waste created by reprocessing.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed for a return to nuclear power generation in spite of opinion polls repeatedly showing that most voters oppose restarts. Abe has said that while the growing reliance on thermal power has stalled efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Japan cannot afford to continue importing huge quantities of oil and natural gas. However, solar power capacity has tripled since Fukushima meltdown and reached over 23 thousand megawatt at the end of 2014 and cost of solar electricity came down to average household electricity prices.
Arnie Gunderson has rich experience of nuclear power projects of about 70 nuclear power plants in the United States. He has been one of the most persistent critics of the official story about the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In a speech at the World Uranium Symposium in October in 2014, he highlighted the "role of luck" in the nuclear industry. He said that the tsunami on March 11, 2011 that hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, which caused meltdown of 3 reactors, could have caused 14 potential meltdowns which were averted purely by luck. The tsunami wiped out the cooling pumps of 14 nuclear reactors along the ocean. The work could have faced 14 meltdowns. The "luck" occurred in the timing of the earthquake and tsunami, which struck at 2 pm in Japan. There were 1,000 people working at that time in the ill-fated Fukushima power plant. If the tsunami had hit at 2 a.m., only 100 people would have been working at the site. And there would have been far fewer workers at the other plants. Since the disaster struck during the afternoon, there were enough people on-site to save the day.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, economic reforms created an acute shortage of funds for nuclear developments. A number of projects were stalled. But by the late 1990s, exports of reactors to Iran, China and India were negotiated and Russia's stalled domestic construction programme revived. Rostov I, the first of the delayed units, started up in 2001, followed by Kalinin 3 in 2004, Rostov 2 in 2010 and Kalinin 4 in 2011.
In July 2012, the Energy Ministry (Minenergo) published draft plans to commission 83 GWe of new capacity by 2020, including 10 GWe nuclear to total 30.5 GWe. A year later Minenergo reduced the projection to 28 GWe. In parallel with this, Russia is increasing its hydro-electric capacity. The aim is to have almost half of Russia's electricity from nuclear and hydro by 2030. Presently Russia has 34 operating nuclear reactors, totalling 25.26 Gwe capacity and 8 more reactors are in three construction phases, including 2 small ones. Most of the old reactors are being licensed for extension of life. Russian reactors were originally licensed for 30 years life time. Generally the VVER-440 and most RBMK units get 15-year life extensions and the VVER-IOOO units 25 years. On the other hand, the construction of a large fast breeder Unit is almost complete. An initial floating power plant is under construction.
In 2009, Atomenergoprom, the Russian Atomic Energy Power Corporation, signed a framework agreement with Japan's Toshiba for collaboration in the development of nuclear power technology. Toshiba purchased Westinghouse Electric in 1996 and Westinghouse technology is the basis for about 50 percent of the world's operating commercial nuclear power plants. The Russian-Japanese agreement centres on the design and engineering of commercial nuclear power plants and related equipments. Another joint technology agreement is with Germany's Siemens, which provides turbines for Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear corporation. Siemens and Rosatom work together in developing designs for new nuclear power plants.
Russia is continuing its policy of vigorously pushing the export of all things relating to nuclear energy production. The past year has witnessed multibillion-dollar nuclear power plant sales to countries ranging from Venezuela to India and from China to Turkey among others.
Supply of nuclear fuel is an important Russian business. Russia has about 40 percent of global uranium enrichment capacity and supplies 17 percent of the nuclear fuel used around the world. Rosatom or its subsidiaries supply 30 percent of the nuclear fuel used in France, 100 percent of uranium used in Switzerland, and about 45 percent of the fuel used by American utilities that are coming from decommissioned Russian nuclear weapons. This is the result of the Megatons to Megawatts agreement between Russia and the United States.
The Russian anti-nuclear movement is significant. But the Russian nuclear power industry is less influenced by public opinion.
The Chinese government has declared its goal to produce 15 percent of overall energy consumption from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020 and 20 percent by 2030. It plans to increase its nuclear capacity from 26 Gwe currently to 58 GWe by 2020. It has started operation of 17 nuclear power reactors between 2002 and 2013. Presently 26 reactors are in operation. In 2014, China has not approved a single new nuclear power project, and investment in the industry dropped by 6.6 percent. But in the first half of 2015 two reactors having total capacity of 3 GWe started operation. Though China has pushed forward with new constructions, the Fukushima disaster did slow down progress for a while. The State Council announced five days after the nuclear disaster that it would suspend approvals for new nuclear plants and begin safety checks of both operational and planned nuclear plants. Inspections of the operating plants and planned units were completed by October. Thereafter, China went ahead rapidly with nuclear plant establishment. But the biggest potential bottleneck is lack of human resources, i.e.. enough trained personnel to build and operate all of these new plants.
China seemed more interested in building its own reactors, the CPR-1000, based on old Westinghouse technology. In 2009, the state news agency Xinhua reported that 20 of the 22 nuclear reactors that are under construction applied CPR-1000 technology. Critics say, by bypassing the passive safety technology of the third generation AP-1000, China is vastly increasing the risk of its nuclear power accident. Passive safety technology ensures that a reactor will automatically shut down in the event of a disaster without human intervention. Plants without this feature are less safe as they rely on human intervention, which can be difficult to provide in a crisis situation. Nuclear power has a special attraction for local government leaders, who welcome the intensive construction and operating processes as major job creators for their regions.
China's indigenously-developed third-generation reactor is Hualong-I. It hopes to export the Hualong-I. A joint Chinese-Pakistani nuclear power project in Karachi is the first use of Hualong-I outside China.
The Indian government informed parliament August, 2015, that its nuclear energy target remains at 630,000 MWe by 2032. The same figure was also mentioned in India's intended nationally determined contribution document released in October, 2015. Now the officials of the DAE say that the 63,000 MWe target was based on expectation that after the Indo-US agreement. India would be able to expand nuclear capacity by importing foreign reactors. With little progress on ground since the 2008, the government has drastically cut the nuclear energy target to just about 14,500 MWe by 2024. Participation from French major Areva (Jaitapur), US firms Westinghouse (Mithil Virdhi, Gujarat) and General Electric (Kovadda, Andhra Pradesh) are very much doubtful due to lack of clarity of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act 2010. Meanwhile the new Atomic Energy Commission chairman Sekhar Basil assured the industry that the suppliers who would design and manufacture equipment would not be held responsible for liability in the contract.
But unless an agreement is reached with the US on "common language" on the civil nuclear liability law, General Electric will not invest in India's nuclear energy industry. Its CEO Jelf Immelt said in September 2015 that the world has an established liability regime, it has been accepted and adopted. India can't reinvent the language on liability. According to him, subsidies in the electricity sector needed to be lowered so that prices were more market-determined. Prices paid for natural gas are too low for investments in India, it need to go to levels that will justify the investments in the nuclear sector.
India has mainly an indigenous nuclear power programme and expects 9512 MWe capacity at the most online in near future. Due to its weapons programme India was largely excluded from trade of nuclear plant or materials. Lack of uranium and trade bans compelled India to develop a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium. Now six power reactors are under construction of both indigenous and foreign design with a total capacity of 4,300 MWe–two 649 MWe each at Kakrapar and Rawatbhata, a Russian VVER-1000 Kudankulam-2 of 950 MWe, and one 470 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam. Permanent closure of Rajasthan-l has been declared recently. Kudankulam-2 and the PFBR have been listed as "under construction" for more than a decade. Russia has agreed to construct two more 950 MWe reactors at Kudankulam.
Just after 13 months of Fukushima disaster, on 11 April 2012, a massive undersea earthquake measuring 8.5 in the Richter scale off Indonesia made India nervous for fear of tsunami. There was nightmarish experience of 2004 tsunami disaster, in which 1.5 lakh people were killed in the region after a similar earthquake generated 30 feet high waves. And Kalpakkam nuclear power plant in Chennai coast was invaded by a few metre high wall of water. Luckily the power plant was not functioning at that time; it was kept shutdown, as a result, the country narrowly escaped a major nuclear disaster. But a number of people residing in nuclear workers housing complex, including a few plant workers were washed away. Two important conditions for a major tsunami are an earthquake of above 7 magnitudes and a vertical movement of the fault line. This time the vertical movement that causes a large displacement of water in the sea was not there. With a massive earthquake in the same region in 2004, scientists were astounded to find such a mega earthquake so soon. This is one of the real dangers which can lead to nuclear disaster, for which the PMANE is opposing nuclear power plants at Kudankulam.
However an anti-nuclear protest movement under the leadership of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), is going on since 2011 against Kudankulam nuclear power plants. The protestors are carrying out hunger strikes, rallies, public meetings in Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Thootukudi, Ramnathapuram. This first Russian project was shelved after the Soviet Union collapsed and taken up again in 1997. The Indian government along with the Russians has completed construction of one 950 MWe reactor last year and are constructing one more reactor of the same capacity. There are plans to set up another four reactors there.
Astonishingly NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) has not even complied with the AERB's (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) condition that the plant should have a secure source of fresh water and storage for 60 days is required for cooling the fuel rods. An expert committee had expressed a number of concerns—the location of the plant on fragile limestone bedrock, nearby an area which a huge tsunami wave struck in 2004, and the site has a record of seismic activity. The fishermen of the locality know that hot water discharges from Tarapur (Maharashtra) and Kalpakkam ruclear plants affect marine life and the livelihood of them.
The protestors launched indefinite hunger strike with the participation of more than hundreds of women from neighbouring villages. Rallies, demonstrations find public meetings were held at regular intervals for over three years. This is a historically important and prolonged fight against the Indian nuclear empire between the ordinary citizens of India and the government. The government intimidated and harassed the protestors. Sedition charges were brought against over five thousand local protestors.
The proposed Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra is to be the world's biggest, a 9,900 MW nuclear power project at Madban village on the Arabian Sea coast of Ratnagiri district. According to publicly available information in 2011, Jaitapur nuclear power will cost over Rs 15 a unit. On 6 December 2010 an agreement was signed for the construction of first set of two European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years in between France and India. French state-controlled nuclear engineering firm Areva and NPCIL. signed this agreement. It is proposed to construct 6 reactors each of 1650 MWe third generation pressurised water reactors. Meanwhile the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had expressed concerns about the safety of the computer system in this reactor.
Since Jaitapur is seismically sensitive area, the danger of an earthquake has been foremost on the minds of people. According to the earthquake hazard zoning of India, Jaitapur comes under Zone III. This zone is called the moderate risk zone. The presence of two major creeks online proposed site has been ignored. On the other hand it is not clear where the nuclear waste created by the reactors will be dumped. EPR waste will have about four times as much that of pressurised water reactors. Since the plant will use the sea water for cooling and then release warm water in the Arabian Sea, fishermen in villages around the site are afraid of losing their livelihood.
On three occasions consecutively—29 December 2009, 12 January 2010 and 22 January 2010, when the government authorities went to Madban for distribution of cheques against compulsory land acquisition, the villagers refused to accept the cheques. Government officials were shown black flags. 72 people were arrested on 22 January 2010 when people protested against the compulsory land acquisition. On 4 December 2010, protestors became violent. Over 1500 people were detained. During a protest demonstration in the locality in 2011 a young fisherman Tabrez Sagvekar and 8 others died in police firing. However the government completed land acquisition after increasing land price exorbitantly. As of February 12, 2014, land compensation has been accepted by all 2336 title holders. Environmentalists have raised serious doubts about the neutrality of the Environment Impact Assessment Report, prepared by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). Parallel studies by the Bombay Natural History Society have shown that the project will cause substantial environmental damage.
Despite government obsession and media hype nuclear power is unlikely to be significant in electricity generation. Unless foreign countries grant cheap loans for reactor purchase, India is not able to afford them. Large-scale expansion of nuclear power can't be expected in this way. The government seems to have promised the US, France, and Russia that it would purchase nuclear reactors from them. Japan also has asked India for a dedicated nuclear reactor site. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) has shortlisted four major reactor manufacturers: Westinghouse Electric Company with its advanced Passive 1000 reactors, General Electric-Hitachi with its advanced Boiling Water Reactor and Economical Simplified Boiling Water Reactors, Areva with its European Pressurized reactors; and Russia's Rosatom with its (VVER1000). The plan is to devote one site with six reactors for each vendor. Sites have been identified across the country. Primary focus has been on importing reactors.
In view of the enormous costs involved, a large-scale expansion of nuclear power in India will require the involvement of the private sector. But there remain several uncertainties for private companies to operate nuclear power plants in India. The first hurdle is whether private parties can be legally involved in this activity. The 1962 Atomic Energy Act gave the central government power on all matters relating to atomic energy. It can exercise that power either by itself or through any authority or corporation established by it or by a government company. The act defines "Government Company" as a company in which not less than 51 percent of the paid-up share capital is held by the central government. So the private sector can only participate with minority equity participation. Even then the role for the private sector nuclear power generation would be very limited, due to issues relating to safety, fuels and management of nuclear power plants.
The country's largest government-owned power company, the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), which wanted to start operating nuclear power stations, could not do so by itself. It had to enter a joint venture with the Nuclear Power Corporation, in which the latter held a 51 percent stake. In addition to the NTPC, the state owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) is emerging as an important player. Following the establishment of a joint venture to manufacture 700 MW turbines, NPCIL and BHEL are reported to be in talks aimed at setting up a joint venture company to export Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors.
The BHEL has achieved major breakthrough with an order for Steam Turbine Generators for a new breed of 700 MWe Nuclear Plant, based on Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors. This is the highest capacity for a nuclear plant that has been indigenously developed in India. This NPCIL has placed contract with the BHEL-Alstom consortium for its two units of 700 MWe Rawatbhata Nuclear Power Station (Units 7&8). The consortium will supply the turbine generator packages for the two new 700 MWe units. The BHEL and Alstom shall jointly manufacture and supply the Steam Turbines while the manufacture and supply of the complete Generator, Moisture Separator Reheater (MSR) and Condenser, including complete erection and commissioning of the Turbine Generator package, will be undertaken by BHEL.
But NTPC has put its plans on hold to set up nuclear power projects, jointly with NPCIL. The company has also relocated employees assigned for the projects due to uncertainty in the nuclear power arena. NPCIL is facing severe delays in setting up plants and NTPC is actually considering exiting the joint venture.
It is clear from the above discussion that, nuclear power is in decay worldwide. It is only by continuous governmental efforts to keep it going that the industry succeeds in surviving at all.
Vol. 48, No. 27, Jan 10 - 16, 2016