Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

Seven nations and their paths to nuclear power

The path taken by seven different countries to nuclear power.

United Arab Emirates

The UAE drafted a policy on nuclear energy in 2008. It is considered a newcomer to nuclear energy, with four reactors under construction at Barakah, in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region.

Built by Korea Electric Power Co (Kepco) and overseen by the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (Fanr), the power plant is expected to come into operation next year.

The reactors are more than 70 per cent complete, and Unit 1 is more than 90 per cent complete. When fully operational, the plant will produce 25 per cent of the UAE’s energy needs by 2020.

The UAE is regularly referred to as the “gold standard” and a model for building and managing a nuclear power plant on time and on budget.

China

Nuclear experts say China is increasing its nuclear power to help cut air pollution from coal-fired plants.

“Countries need a lot of energy, especially for industrial development,” said John Bernhard, a former Danish ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency. “Traditional energy sources are not sufficient and the same is the case with renewable sources. To live up to climate change goals, with less Co2 in the air, nuclear power can be part of the solution as a clean energy source.”

China has 35 nuclear power reactors in operation, 20 under construction and plans for 42 more. The country plans to eventually export nuclear technology.

According to the IAEA, China has been the country with the largest installed nuclear power capacity since 2012.

Right after the Fukushima accident in 2011, China announced it would suspend approvals for new nuclear power stations and ensure all its nuclear projects underwent stringent safety checks. It also halted work on four approved units that were expected to start construction that year.

A year later, a new safety plan for nuclear power was drafted and approved.

United States

Public opinion of nuclear energy has become more positive in the US in the course of the past 30 years. The country’s development of nuclear power started in 1945 as part of a government programme.

There are 100 plants in operation, four more under construction and 18 planned, according to the World Nuclear Association, although some nuclear programmes have been reduced due to more focus on alternative sources of energy.

Almost all the commercial reactors in the US are owned by private companies and it is said that the US government is more involved in commercial nuclear power than in any other industry in the country.

United Kingdom

The UK has 15 reactors generating about 21 per cent of its electricity, but almost half of this capacity is to be retired by 2025, according to the World Nuclear Association. It has four reactors planned.

In the late 1990s, the country’s nuclear power plants contributed about 25 per cent of its total annual electricity generation, a figure that has been decreasing as old plants close down.

Despite the Fukushima accident, public opinion on nuclear power in the UK has stayed generally positive.

“I think everybody understands the need for nuclear power,” said Lady Barbara Judge, former head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. “That is the only way to meet the climate goals that were agreed in Paris because it is base-load generation without carbon, so it is the best source of energy for energy security and energy independence.”

Finland

Finland has four nuclear reactors that provide almost 30 per cent of its electricity needs. A fifth, very large reactor is under construction and it is expected to go online in 2018. Another large reactor is planned.

According to the World Nuclear Association, the country’s four reactors are considered among the world’s most efficient, with a lifetime average capacity factor of more than 85 per cent.

Russia

Seven nuclear reactors are under construction in Russia, with a large fast-neutron reactor recently put into operation.

Another 25 reactors are planned, some as replacements for existing plants. They are expected to increase the country’s current nuclear power capacity significantly by 2030.

The country has 36 reactors in operation and it is extending by 15 to 25 years the operational lives of most of its reactors from 30 years.

Dr Peter Bode, associate professor in nuclear science and engineering at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherland, said several countries were investing in nuclear power because it is the only way for them to generate sufficient energy in the next decades, as solar and wind cannot provide the same amounts of gigawatts.

“The lesson learnt from the Fukushima incident is that more emphasis has to be paid on the so-called ‘stress-test’ of designs, including identifying all potential incidents such as earthquakes, airplane crashes, conventional explosions and flooding,” he said.

“Not just to take adequate protection – which sometimes is not possible due to the cost-risk balance - but especially to be prepared in case it happens and to understand an eventual impact.

“All-in-all, nuclear energy is an extremely safe technology for energy generation. The number of incidents and casualties in the civil technology has been very small over the last 60 years, with a few cases due to technology failure such as (the 1986 disaster at) Chernobyl.”

Germany

Until 2011, nuclear energy produced a quarter of Germany’s electricity through 17 reactors. That number is now down to 16 per cent from eight reactors.

Although German support for nuclear energy was considered strong in the 1970s, public opinion in the country is now generally opposed to nuclear power, with almost no support for building new nuclear plants. Almost half of Germany’s electricity is generated from coal.

“Germany is the main country pulling out of nuclear,” Lady Judge said. “They have always been against nuclear and the Fukushima accident frightened them.

“Unfortunately, emissions there are going up and they are burning coal imported from the US while buying nuclear power from France and gas from Russia so that, although they turned off their nuclear power plants, they have not lowered their emissions, and they have, in fact, raised them.”

cmalek@thenational.ae

Updated: October 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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