Friday, March 09, 2007

Nuclear Electric Power and Public Acceptance

Panel Discussion


The Role of Nuclear Electric Power and Public Acceptance

Organized during the Seminar on The Prospects of Nuclear Electric Power in Indonesia, Jakarta 22 February 2007, by BATAN, JETRO and KADIN

Revised Version of Statement by

Budi Sudarsono

Chairman of Masyarakat Peduli Energi dan Lingkungan

(Energy and Environment Awareness Society)

The introduction of nuclear power in developing countries faces two major obstacles, namely financing and public acceptance. Financing, because the capital costs of nuclear power plants are significantly higher than fossil power plants: on a per kilowatt basis about twice the capital costs of coal-fired power plants and three times the capital costs of natural gas combined-cycle plants. It is said that capital is scarce in developing countries and therefore should be used wisely. Public acceptance is necessary, since otherwise delays caused by protests and demonstrations could easily inflate capital costs due to possible increases in interest charges and therefore such protests and demonstrations should be avoided.

In the case of Indonesia, other prerequisites for the introduction of nuclear power into the Jawa-Madura-Bali system have been met or, even if only partially met could be met without too much difficulty. The Jamali system installed capacity is nearly 20,000 MW with an evening peak load of about 15,000 MW. Thus a nuclear unit of 1000 MW can easily be accommodated within the system even now. A core of experienced engineers and scientists is already available within PLN and BATAN to undertake the project, not to mention other experienced personnel in state enterprises and private companies with the requisite qualifications in the power industry. The demand for power is evident from PLN’s experience in increasing its sales at more than 6 percent per annum. The constraints in the availability of energy sources is being felt.

The present statement will focus on the role of the media and non-government organizations (NGOs) in the promotion of nuclear power and in obtaining the public acceptance for the nuclear power programme. Clearly both the media and NGOs have a big responsibility in providing objective information to the public. If the information is not objective then it becomes public disinformation and could lead to public deception.

Controversies of public information on nuclear power concerns the following topics.

Safety of nuclear power plant operations.

In the past there have been two notable events involving commercially operated nuclear power plants: the Three Mile Island II incident in 1979, and the Chernobyl-IV accident in 1986. Both events, traumatic as they were at the time, have been “blown up” out of proportion in the past. It is now nearly 21 years after Chernobyl, and perhaps the general public has largely forgotten. But the true scale needs to be borne in mind. An international multi-agency conference was held in 2005 specifically for this purpose and it was widely reported in the media. The main conclusion was that the damage cuased by the accident was not as widespread as originally thought.

It should also be borne in mind that there are at present 443 commercial nuclear power plants in 31 countries, all providing reliable supply of electricity safely and cheaply.

Nuclear power economics.

Nuclear generating costs are regarded by many as higher than fossil generation costs. According to the World Nuclear Association, this is definitely not anymore the case since December 2005. Prior to that, fossil generation costs are lower in cases where cheap fuel supply is available.

Energy prices have never been stable. The international oil price increased two to three times in 1973-1974, then again in 1979-1980; then it plunged from $30/bbl to $12/bbl in February 1986. But at present it remains at a high $56-58/bbl, having gone above $70/bbl recently. No one can say what it could be in 2010 or 2020, but the current belief is that it would not go below $50/bbl, because of continuing global demand increase and the perception that world resources may be depleting.

Thus if people claim that nuclear plant capital costs are high, they should also take into consideration the high fuelling costs of fossil fuel power plants. A 1000 MW coal-fired plant would require 2.5 million tons of steam coal annually, which at $40/ton would cost $100 million per year. And this price is likely to increase….

Waste disposal.

Nuclear waste is long-lived and no permanent means of waste disposal has been applied commercially. However, this does not mean that mankind would face a future catastrophe from the spread of nuclear waste. The existence of several prehistoric “natural reactors” at Oklo in Gabon is sufficient proof that nuclear waste is and should be technologically containable, as there is no evidence that fission products produced by the reactors have spread from the original site. True, only a few countries have definite plans for a repository. But the fact is that nuclear waste disposal is a very long-term undertaking and spent fuel can be safely stored for decades. Even the United States with its 104 power reactors would operate its first repository in 2015 or even later. Furthermore it is quite possible that in the future the United States would also reprocess spent fuel in order to reduce the volume of high-level wastes, as is being done in Europe and Japan.

Thus the media and NGOs have the obligation to provide the relevant scientific explanations to the general public about these and any other pertinent questions regarding nuclear energy, nuclear electric power generation and nuclear fuel cycles, including of course the hazards thereof and the measures necessary to contain them. It is no wonder that now that it is evident that nuclear power should become part of the solution facing mankind’s biggest challenge, that of the impacts of global warming, such prominent greens as Patrick Moore (co-founder of Greenpeace) and James Lovelock (founder of Gaia) have become pro-nuclear.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Australia to build nuclear power plants !

Prime Minister Howard announced that Australia should join other countries in operating nuclear power plants. The cost of electricity from nuclear power plants are initially high, he said, but in the long run they should become cheaper.

Thus Australia, the biggest exporter of coal for power production and the country with one of the largest resources of uranium in the world, will after all build and operate nuclear power plants. This move will make the country's power system become more optimal, since cheaper nuclear electricity will take up the base load and the more expensive coal electricity will take up the variable load. More coal will be exported and increased value added will be accrued from exploiting uranium resources.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Nuclear Power is Safe, Reliable and Environment Friendly

I hope you now agree that nuclear power is cheap: this means that the total of all three components of generating cost is less than generating costs from other sources of energy. The average of total operating costs of all U.S. nuclar power plants is now less than 2 cents/kWh; the reason being that almost all of them have no more capital cost component, i.e. they have been all paid out.

Now I hope you will also agree that nuclear power is safe, reliable and environment friendly.

Safe, because there are 442 plants all over the world in no less than 30 countries, all operating safely and reliably. Take for example the 100 or so plants in the U.S. alone. Their availability factors and their load factors during the last 15 years have been continually increasing, from around 65 percent to around 90 percent. This means that the amount of nuclear electricity generated in the U.S. has been increasing year by year, even though there has not been one single new plant built and brought into commission. The increase was huge ! Nearly equivalent to an increase of 25,000 MW of new capacity !
The only nuclear incident that has caused concern in the U.S. was the Three Mile Island-2 incident of 1979. And the only casualty at the time was the owner of the plant, because the plant could not be operated again. There were no lives lost, nor were there any injuries. Only a small amount of radioactivity was released into the atmosphere.
The only nuclear accident at an operating power plant occurred in 1986 in the then Soviet Union. This was the Chernobyl-4 accident; and large amounts of radioactive particles were released into the atmosphere. A total of upto 60 people died, mostly those who had been assigned to fight the highly radioactive fire at the plant. More than 100,000 people were evacuated and experienced traumatic lives.
However, it must be said that (1) a similar accident cannot occur with the types of plant built and operated in the West (in the Americas and Europe) and in the Far East (Japan, South Korea, China, and also in India), because these types: PWR, BWR, and HWR are all water reactors and all have negative reactivity cofficients; (2) the Chernobyl-type of reactor has a positive reactivity coefficient (if for some reason its power increases, then the reactor has the tendency to itself further increase its power), and furthermore in the Soviet Union the nuclear plants are not housed in concrete containment buildings to prevent the release of radioactivity; and (3) there were grave operating errors committed by the crew and management of the Chernobyl-4 plant.
Thus, all 442 nuclear plants are operating safely (including 12 Chernobyl-type plants still in operation, but with modified safety culture). There should be little concern for an accident such as Chernobyl to occur, or even a Three Mile Island type of incident.

Environment friendly ? Why, of course. Nuclear plants do not emit any harmful gases, no oxides of any kind nor any greenhouse gases. Environmental impact studies have been carried out in Europe in a project called ExternE studies. These are comprehensive studies and they have concluded that nuclear energy is as clean as wind energy and as benign as gas.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Why Nuclear Power ?

To understand how Nuclear Power Helps to Combat Global Warming, one must first understand Why Nuclear Power ?

The short answer to that is: Nuclear Power is cheap, safe, reliable and environment friendly. How come, then, that not all electricity is generated from nuclear energy ?
It is a long story; it began during the Second World War.
But let us first discuss the first and probably the most important question: the cost of generating nuclear electricity.

Well, is nuclear power really cheap ?
Yes, and ...... No. Yes, if what you mean by cost is the electricity generating cost, that is the total of three components of costs, namely, (1) capital costs, (2) operating and maintenance costs, and (3) fuelling costs. Comparing the generating costs of nuclear power with those costs from fossil-fuel plants (coal-, gas- or oil-fired plants), nuclear power have higher capital costs but have much lower fuelling costs. But the total generating costs of nuclear electricity is lower than those from fossil-fuel plants. Especially nowadays with oil at around $70/bbl and gas at more than $6/MMBtu.
But the initial costs of building new nuclear power plants are much higher than building fossil fuel power plants: gas-fired combined cycle plants are the cheapest and quickest to build.

The costs of generating electricity from three different energy sources have been estimated by the OECD/NEA through studies published in 2005. A summary of results follows:

Some comparative electricity generating cost projections for year 2010 on

nuclear coal gas
Finland 2.76 3.64 -
France 2.54 3.33 3.92
Germany 2.86 3.52 4.90
Switzerland 2.88 - 4.36
Netherlands 3.58 - 6.04
Czech Rep 2.30 2.94 4.97
Slovakia 3.13 4.78 5.59
Romania 3.06 4.55 -
Japan 4.80 4.95 5.21
Korea 2.34 2.16 4.65
USA 3.01 2.71 4.67
Canada 2.60 3.11 4.00
US 2003 cents/kWh, Discount rate 5%, 40 year lifetime, 85% load factor.
Source: OECD/IEA NEA 2005.
At 5% discount rate nuclear, coal and gas costs are as shown above and wind is around 8 cents. Nuclear costs were highest by far in Japan. Nuclear is comfortably cheaper than coal in seven of ten countries, and cheaper than gas in all but one. At 10% discount rate nuclear ranged 3-5 cents/kWh (except Japan: near 7 cents, and Netherlands), and capital becomes 70% of power cost, instead of the 50% with 5% discount rate. Here, nuclear is again cheaper than coal in seven
of ten countries, and cheaper than gas in all but two. Among the technologies analysed for the report, the new EPR if built in Germany would deliver power at about 2.38 c/kWh - the lowest cost of any plant in the study.

The above table and its explanation is taken from an article available at the website of the World Nuclear Association entitled "The Economics of Nuclear Power".