Archive for the ‘Nuclear Cloud’ Category

Nuclear Cloud or Jobs Opportunity?

mardi, mars 15th, 2011

The current crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, following the major earthquake last Friday, has cast a cloud over the ambitious British government plan to build 10 or more nuclear reactors at selected sites around the country over the next 15 years. Such a plan is viewed as critical to meeting commitments made by the previous Labour government and maintained by the current Coalition to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34% from 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, also published last week the Carbon Plan of the Coalition and in which the government commits to creating a law to set a carbon floor or minimum price for emissions permits. It is planned that by 2013, big polluters will not only be limited under the European Emissions Trading Scheme whereby they have to buy carbon permits for each tonne of pollution they emit above a pre-determined limit, but also by this carbon floor price programme. The current carbon price is generally considered to trade at too low a level to make it worthwhile for companies to be able to profit from cleaner energy sources such as wind or nuclear power that are more expensive to build but cheaper to operate.
If we accept the premise that no technology currently providing the concentrated output capacity and reliability of supply of either fossil-based fuels or nuclear, is absolutely safe or without environmental effects, it is worth considering that a 1 Giga-watt, light-water reactor uses about 25 tonnes of enriched uranium a year, requiring the mining of some 50,000 tonnes of uranium. About 25 tonnes of used fuel or radioactive waste is taken from the nuclear core each year and , if reprocessed as in Europe and Japan, 97% of this can be recycled leaving only 3% of high-level waste amounting to 700 Kilo-grams per year but needing to be isolated from the environment for a very long time. In comparison, a 1 Giga-watt coal-fired power station requires the mining, transportation, storage and burning of around 3.2 million tonnes of coal per year , creating up to 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and also sulphur dioxide, depending on the type of coal. In addition, solid waste from the plant can be substantial and cause both environmental and health problems.
Meanwhile on the jobs front in the UK, initial contracts of the French nuclear supplier Areva to build 4 of its new European Pressurised reactors for EDF Energy, could create up to 4000 building and manufacturing jobs and stimulate a British revival in a high-tech industry, with major growth prospects worldwide. Areva has already contracted Rolls Royce as its main British manufacturing partner and launched a joint venture with the National Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre which was set up with public funds to develop British manufacturing. This joint venture will then support the qualification process of other such companies (to date 20 are approved and 370 have applied), in taking them through the educational, training and procedural requirements of an industry in which the safety aspects of manufacturing are fundamentally different from other industries and the standards are exacting but again called into question by isolated, high profile events such as Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, Chernobyl in the Ukraine and now Fukushima in Japan.
Certainly the fail-safe systems of nuclear power plants will need to be revisited worldwide, although their generally being sited close to the sea or large rivers is due to the need for large quantities of water for cooling purposes and to drive the turbine generators. It is also understood that the Fukushima nuclear plant in crisis was configured to withstand a 6-metre Tsunami although not the monster which swamped the stand-by generators and the power for the associated cooling system of the nuclear core, whilst devastating the large and inhabited area inland. However, with hindsight, the risks of radioactive contamination of the emergency repair teams and to the surrounding areas would seem to have been multiplied by co-locating 6 reactors at Fukushima, 4 or more of which appear to have been damaged.
WIth enhanced safety procedures implemented worldwide following the lessons learned from this incident, nuclear power can remain a powerful source of energy for the future and in the US President Obama has already spoken in its defence although also ordering a safety review.