The Wealth of (Asian) Nations: poised to deliver massive carbon reductions in the UK

Asian financial power is firming up behind nuclear power in the United Kingdom. Chinese and Japanese consortia have moved into this big market, and are poised to enter the regulatory process en route to building thousands of megawatts of zero-carbon generating capacity. This is good news. The world needs more nuclear power. It actually needs much more, urgently and desperately. We humans simply cannot afford to keep dumping carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal man-made greenhouse gas, into our atmosphere. Our atmosphere is not a big free waste dump and we have to stop treating it like one.

All the above-mentioned projects—which involve putting a total of roughly 16,000 megawatts of new capacity at sites that include Hinkley, Sizewell, Oldbury, Wylfa, and Mooreside—involve big light water reactors of the boiling water or pressurized water variety. The proposed designs are the Areva EPR (1600 MW), the Westinghouse AP1000 (1154 MW), the APR 1400 (1455 MW), the Advanced Boiling Water reactor, or ABWR (1380 MW), and others of similar or bigger size.

The mighty CANDU reactor is conspicuously absent from this lineup, but that does not mean it is off the UK’s radar. The UK has a huge stockpile of civilian plutonium, and wants to use the stuff as fuel in reactors. But what kind of reactors? The UK government recently decided against the GE PRISM, a fast neutron machine. It then invited CANDU Energy to put the case for burning mixed oxide fuel in the CANDU EC6. Should this machine be chosen for plutonium elimination in the UK—and why shouldn’t it, the CANDU is proven around the world and has en excellent track record of both on-schedule construction and performance in service—then we could add a few more thousand megawatts to the UK’s nuclear plans.

As nuclear energy gains bigger and bigger footholds in grids like that in the UK, some people worry about declining nuclear power economics. Big nuclear fleets like France’s tend to have lower fleet capacity factors than in places like America, where CFs are ridiculously high (over 95 percent).

So what. France’s electricity is 80 percent nuclear. The country’s carbon dioxide intensity per kilowatt-hour (CIPK) of grid electricity is incredibly low: less than 50 grams per kWh. French capacity factors are much lower than in the U.S. Does this mean French nuclear reactors are not as economically efficient as they could be?

No. French electricity was in 2011 among the cheapest in the major EU countries, according to this Eurostat table.

Have a look at the UK price. It was above that of France. The UK has far, far less nuclear power than France.

And Germany? That paragon of green energy dumped more than 325 million tons of CO2 into the air en route to making electricity in 2011. That works out to a CIPK of over 540 grams. German electricity was more than ten times dirtier than French.

And for their trouble, Germans paid 25 Euro cents for their dirty electricity. French men and women paid 14 cents for power that was more than ten times cleaner than German power.

I have never understood how France, which has promoted itself incredibly successfully as a nation that knows good food, has been so lamentably unsuccessful in promoting the right way to make electric power. Germany, with a CIPK more than ten times that of France, gets all the accolades.

Are there not laws in the EU against false advertising? Somebody should sue the German government. On the basis of the bare facts, they would win.

The UK could and should build many more nuclear plants than it is currently planning. More countries should follow France’s lead.

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9 years ago

Did the UK decide against Prism? I was following this and didn’t see a definite “No” anywhere.

No reason to stop looking at CANDU even if the Prism option is still alive, of course.

And yes – France’s cheap low-carbon electricity is a real teeth-grinder for anti-nukes everywhere; they ignore it as hard as they possibly can.

9 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

That Grauniad article has some utter nonsense in it.  “the NDA regards the reactor technology as immature and commercially unproven. It would also create large amounts of plutonium-contaminated waste and increase the risk of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons, the NDA says.”

If that’s an accurate recounting of the NDA report, it was a hatchet job.  And seriously, “plutonium-contaminated waste”?  Like every bit of spent fuel from all existing reactors?

My concern with CANDU in that application is my understanding that thermal-spectrum reactors cannot completely dispose of plutonium, period.

Jim Baerg
9 years ago

Has anyone investigated using a mix of thorium & plutonium oxides for CANDU fuel rods?

9 years ago

The UK is now serious about nuclear and that is great. As Shakespeare said “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.” Nuclear energy will benefit the UK in many ways. I speak up here because I feel I need to help other readers know that you are not alone. You are helping spread the “knowledge” to make the world better. Ontario and France are good models for any country seeking a better life. But don’t take mine or Steve’s word for it. There are many sources on the web to get started. Ask in the comments.