Call it the world’s slowest photo finish. After several decades of engineering, construction flaws and delays, and cost overruns—a troubled birth that cost their developers dearly—the most advanced commercial reactor designs from Europe and the United States just delivered their first megawatt-hours of electricity within one day of each other. But their benefits—including safety advances such as the AP1000’s passive cooling and the EPR’s airplane-crash-proof shell—may offer too little, too late to secure future projects.
Nuclear power plants’ reactor pressure vessels —the massive steel jars that hold a nuclear plant’s fissioning fuel—face incessant abuse from their radioactive contents. And they must be built with extra toughness to withstand pressure and temperature swings during loss-of-cooling accidents like the one that struck Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. But nuclear safety authorities have recently discovered weaknesses in several pressure vessels, and their contrasting responses suggest that the ultimate lessons from Fukushima are still sinking into international nuclear power culture. This is especially true in the United States, where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is resisting calls to mandate tougher inspection of RPVs. Continue reading “NRC Resisting Europe’s Nuclear Safety Upgrades”
After months of negotiation, the French government has unveiled a long-awaited energy plan that is remarkably true to its election promises. The legislation’s cornerstone is the one-third reduction in the role of nuclear power that President François Hollande proposed on the campaign trail in 2012.
Under the plan, nuclear’s share of the nation’s power generation is to drop from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025, as renewable energy’s role rises from 15 percent today to 40 percent to make up the difference. That is a dramatic statement for France, which is the world’s second largest generator of nuclear energy, after the United States. France has a globally-competitive nuclear industry led by state-owned utility Electricité de France (EDF) and nuclear technology and services giant Areva. Continue reading “Renewables to Dethrone Nuclear Under French Energy Plan”
French president Nicolas Sarkozy was in Normandy last week at the construction site of France’s first new nuclear reactor in two decades, highlighting plans to commence a second new reactor and, according to Paris-based daily Le Monde (Google translation here), calling nuclear energy a key part of the country’s economic recovery plan. The move is evidence of further diversity in how countries are seeking to shape their energy futures via recovery plans, as President Barack Obama negotiates with Congress to keep renewable energy atop his plan and Canada’s latest budget pursues a heavy emphasis on carbon capture and storage.
A who’s-who list of French corporate heavyweights angling for a piece of Sarkozy’s action leaves no doubt that government dollars impact industrial strategy. French state-owned power giant Electricité de France (EDF) is building the reactor at Flammanville that Sarkozy visited last week, using the third-generation EPR reactor designed by French nuclear technology firm Areva. But Sarkozy says a second EPR to be built further up the Normandy coast at Penly will unite EDF and France’s number two player in electricity, GDF Suez; Reuters reported today that French oil and gas firm Total also wants a “double-digit” stake in the project.