Nuclear's unique role in socio-economic development

02 June 2015

Nuclear power is uniquely placed to support the socio-economic development of any country thanks to a combination of advantages over other fuels that goes beyond the supply of electricity, industry leaders agreed yesterday. Ten of the nuclear sector's prominent decision-makers spoke at the plenary session on the first day of the VII Atomexpo conference and exhibition being held in Moscow this week.

AtomExpo 2015 Plenary session - 460 (Rosatom)
The plenary session at Atomexpo (Image: Rosatom)

The annual event is hosted by Rosatom, whose director general, Sergey Kirienko, said "increasing partnerships and interconnectedness" are making the nuclear industry "a unique focus for international cooperation". Talks with customers for plant projects now cover the "entire life cycle", he said, from reactor design to the cost of equipment and services; from the ability to offer maintenance and fuel supply; to decommissioning and the storage of radioactive waste; from the development of longer-lasting materials to the price of a kilowatt hour of electricity; from the creation of jobs to the development of industrial infrastructure and the training of specialists; from regulation and legislation to international safety standards.

"These are no longer questions deferred to a later date, but are the subjects of negotiations now," he said.

This development requires the availability of specialists across national borders and transcends competition between companies, be they state-run or privately owned, he said.

It demands "mutual penetration, mutual dependence", he said, between contractors, suppliers, vendors and international agencies, such as the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). "Only hand-in-hand can we ensure the continued success of the nuclear industry."

Daniel Poneman, president and CEO of Centrus, formerly known as United States Enrichment Corp, said cooperation in the industry had no better example than the Megatons to Megawatt program - a 1993-2013 agreement between the USA and Russia to convert soviet-era nuclear weapons into fuel for US nuclear power plants.

Poneman, a former US deputy secretary of energy said: "That deal transformed international cooperation in the nuclear fuel cycle because it demonstrated a profound truth that is unique to the nuclear industry - that is, it is possible to harness a national security imperative to a commercial driver out of the market place." He added that the international response to the Fukushima accident further illustrated the cross-border, apolitical ties that exist in the nuclear industry.


Poneman said he would single out reliability from among the benefits of nuclear power, following the impact of the polar vortex on the USA in the winters of 2013 and 2014. "Nuclear power saved the day, with its availability remaining at 95%, while coal and diesel froze," he said. Deregulated markets need to "acknowledge and reward" nuclear power for this quality of reliability when compared with all other sources of electricity generation, he said.

The reliability of nuclear power to meet one-third of Japan’s electricity prior to the Fukushima accident means the country is determined to "overcome the situation it has endured" since the shutdown of all of its 43 reactors and gradually to return to its use of the fuel, said Takuya Hattori, president of the Japanese Atomic Industry Forum.

"Japan has no indigenous energy resources and no pipeline or transmission grid connected to other countries. Therefore, security of energy supply is the first priority," he said.

Kyushu Electric Power Company expects to be the first company to restart a reactor in Japan - unit 1 of its Sendai nuclear power plant - in July, with unit 2 following within months. Hattori would not be drawn on how many units might be restarted in the coming months and years, noting that public opposition to this is as much as 60% of those surveyed in a recent poll.


Henri Proglio, the former head of EDF, and Philippe Knoche, CEO of Areva, illustrated the important role nuclear power has played in the economic development of France.

There are 250,000 jobs directly linked to the nuclear industry in France, Proglio said, with another 400,000 jobs in other industries that would not be as competitive were it not for their use of cheap and reliable nuclear power.

EDF and Areva's project in the UK, to build the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset, will not only create 900 on-site jobs over the 60-year life of the project, but will require 25,000 personnel from among supply chain companies during the construction phase alone, Knoche said.
Both executives agreed with Kirienko on the importance of interdependency between industry participants across the nuclear fuel cycle. Knoche illustrated "cooperation between vendors" with Areva's experience of delivering instrumentation and control solutions to 16 countries with a variety of reactor designs.

Proglio - who now sits on the boards of Akkuyu Nuclear JSC in Turkey and Fennovoima Ltd in Finland - said that "industrial partnerships are more vital in the nuclear sector than any other sector I know."


Jacques Regaldo, WANO Chairman, stressed that the nuclear industry is perhaps the most safety conscious of all. Nuclear power plant operators responded quickly and voluntarily to learn lessons from the Fukushima accident, he said, by immediately carrying out safety assessments and stress tests. Post-Fukushima, WANO moved towards a four-year frequency for peer reviews, with a follow-up at the two-year point. It also conducts pre-start up peer reviews and corporate peer reviews.

"The operators decided that WANO should become more and more of an internal safety regulator," he said. "In the nuclear industry we are used to speaking about successive safety barriers. Well, the operators are the first barriers, WANO is the second. And, after that, we have the national and international regulators and organizations that check the safety of nuclear power plants."

Hungary is among countries that strongly support nuclear energy thanks to its long association with the fuel.

Attila Aszodi, the Hungarian government's commissioner for the Paks nuclear power plant expansion project, said the country was "motivated" to continue relying on nuclear energy for one-third of its electricity. "The construction and operation of a nuclear power plant is not only important for a company or a city, but for the development of a whole region," he said, adding that Hungarians would cover 40% of work to build two new Russian units at Paks. Another motivating factor for Hungary's pro-nuclear policy is to reduce its dependence on gas imports, and Hungarians "are well aware of this", Aszodi said.

The Czech Republic, another country with a long history of nuclear power, intends to reignite its commitment to new reactors, the country's deputy trade and industry minister, Pavel Šolc, said.

The share of nuclear power in the Czech Republic's electricity generation mix is expected to rise from about 35% currently to between 46% and 58% by 2040. The target is part of the pro-nuclear elements of a long-term energy strategy - ASEK, according to its Czech acronym - which the country's trade and industry ministry published last month.

"According to that strategy, we have to build at least three new units by 2040 in order to be able to decarbonise our economy and to replace the role of lignite in our energy mix. So, definitely, we will start immediately the preparatory process and permit granting at two existing sites, at Dukovany and Temelín," Šolc said.

The tender process for two new Temelín units was launched in August 2009 and attracted bids from three candidates - Areva; Westinghouse; and a consortium between Škoda JS, AtomStroyExport and OKB Gidropress. But, ČEZ - which is 70% state owned - announced in April 2014 that it had cancelled the process in accordance with the Public Procurement Act. The move followed a meeting of the cabinet the previous day, at which the Czech government declared that, while it supports nuclear energy development in the country, it would not provide any guarantees to the project.

The government will discuss the detailed national action plan for nuclear at a meeting on 3 June, Šolc said. "This plan deals not only with details of building new plants but also issues at the government level of this process, including waste management, fuel supply, diversification and other areas. So, definitely, we will in the very near future start the preparation of building new nuclear units in the Czech Republic."

Human health and the environment

WNA director general Agneta Rising said that only nuclear energy can help the world's growing population "have a decent life" whilst at the same time ensure the planet avoids further damage from climate change. "We must move beyond our dependence on fossil fuels if we are to continue social and economic development across the world," she said.

The share of nuclear energy in the world's electricity mix needs to grow from 11% currently to 18% by 2050, she said, citing an International Energy Agency forecast. The industry needs to address the challenges of "ill-advised and politically motivated opposition to nuclear power" and "deregulated markets that ignore the benefits of nuclear power as a clean and reliable source of electricity", she said. "We need to ensure that nuclear plays its rightful role in supporting global, regional and local social and economic development."

Rising also cited the OECD NEA, which in 2010 forecast that nuclear energy capacity would increase to about 1200 GWe by 2050. The Paris-based agency reduced that forecast after the Fukushima accident and the global financial crisis to 930 GWe, which will be 17% of global electricity demand. More than 60 reactors are under construction in 13 countries, she said, adding that this is not enough to keep pace with demand. The OECD NEA has said that, in order for nuclear to reach its deployment targets under the agency’s 2 degrees Celsius scenario, annual connection rates of nuclear power should increase from 5 GWe in 2014 to more than 20 GWe during the coming decade.

The importance of nuclear energy to medicine cannot be overstated, said Julio De Vido, minister for planning in Argentina, which accounts for 5% of the world’s production of molybdenum-99, a radioisotope used for the treatment of cancer and tumours. Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA deputy director general, added that the Vienna-based agency had provided specialized diagnostic equipment to help African states, including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in their efforts to combat the Ebola Virus Disease. IAEA missions to Africa would increase, he said, to help the continent as it prepares to enjoy the benefits of nuclear power.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News