ENC 2014: Where Europe’s nuclear science and industry community gets together
The European Nuclear Conference (ENC 2014) took place in Marseille, from 11 – 14 May. This flagship ENS conference provides a shop window for the whole nuclear community to showcase the research that is being carried worldwide into the many varied applications of nuclear technology. ENS NEWS N° 45 features several reports on the conference that reflect the broad range of topics covered during the plenary and parallel sessions. The first report, by ENS, puts the spotlight on the first plenary session, which addressed the crucial topic of nuclear new build. (Editor-in-Chief)
Preparing for nuclear new build
There are currently 5 nuclear reactors being built in Europe (in Finland, France and Slovakia) and a further 20 planned (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia and the UK). However, the scale of new build is truly global, with a total of 72 being built around the world, including in countries like India, China, Argentina, Brazil, Korea and Russia. The opening Plenary Session of ENC 2014 put the conference spotlight on the many opportunities and challenges that new build has to offer for the global nuclear community.
Agneta Rising, Director General of the World Nuclear Association (WNA), chaired the session. Before inviting the keynote speakers to give their presentations and launching a subsequent debate with the conference floor she first set the political scene in Europe.
She briefly highlighted how the current political landscape in Europe is varied and polarised – and, therefore, so too is the commitment to new build. Countries like the UK, Poland and Sweden, driven on by security of supply imperatives and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions to fulfil their climate change obligations, are investing heavily in new build. Elsewhere, Germany, for example, has taken the opposite track. By opting to phase out all nuclear and, illogically, replace it with more fossil fuels in the short term, Germany’s climate change obligations appear unlikely to be met, Ms Rising highlighted. Even in France, Europe’s foremost nuclear country, the current government wants to reduce the country’s nuclear share from 75% to 50%. In short, the nuclear topography in Europe is patchy. Clearly, governments in Europe should do more to support nuclear as a whole.
The ambitious UK new build programme
The first speaker to step up onstage was Keith Parker, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) in the UK, and President of FORATOM. He presented a case study from the UK that illustrates how to develop nuclear new build supply chain capability and provide incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to invest in it. He first outlined the UK’s ambitious new build programme, which is headed by three nuclear consortia, EDF Energy, Horizon and NUGEN, and features six reactors (AREVA’s EPR, Westinghouse’s AP1000 and the Hitach-GE ABWR) at sites including Hinkley Point, Sizewell, Wylfa and Oldbury. Around 60,000 jobs are involved in the nuclear supply chain and as new build kicks on this number will increase.
The NIA has campaigned intensively to raise awareness among SMEs of the benefits of new nuclear business and published an Essential Guide for the Nuclear New Build Supply Chain. The campaign generated considerable interest. In addition, a Capability Report was also published to highlight how skills need to be upgraded and refreshed since it is twenty years since the last nuclear power plant was built. In the UK, the current skills capability level is equivalent to around 70% of that required for a new build project. Companies need to upgrade their skills set in order to be competitive with those in France. At the same time, however, they also need to cooperate with their French companies to achieve this goal.
Nuclear means economic growth
Nuclear energy is seen as priority economic sector in the UK, offering great potential for economic growth. Opportunities also exist for UK supply chain companies to do business abroad. As a result of the inclusive government-industry dialogue that is going on in the UK, which includes regulators and all actors in the whole nuclear cycle, companies are able to make informed decisions having gained a holistic view of whole nuclear cycle and supply chain. In short, the UK’s supply chain needs to expand to meet these ambitious nuclear targets and efforts are being focused on attracting new companies to bring about this expansion. The NIA’s Business Support programme offers companies of all sizes the chance to benefit from the national and international business opportunities that new build provides.
Finland: political, technical and economic challenges
The next speaker was Jorma Aurela, of the Finnish government’s Ministry of Employment and Economy. He began by providing an overview of the Finnish nuclear scene, including giving updated information on the Olikiluoto 3 (TVO) construction project and on the planned Hanhikivi (Fennovoima) NPP. He also outlined Finland’s spent fuel and radioactive waste management programme.
Mr Aurela then addressed the main theme of his presentation, the challenges that governments face when deciding and planning for new build. Essentially, these challenges are political, social and economic. He first used a ‘mind map’ to describe the political challenges posed by new build. This sustainability assessment model developed by the University of Michigan illustrates how three types of challenges or ‘spheres of sustainability’ - environmental, social and economic – impact upon the perceived sustainability of new build. This analytical device was instrumental in helping decision-makers in Finland make up their mind about new build. The main political challenges identified are local, national and international questions, climate change considerations and EU policies.
The technical challenges that new build posed in Finland, according to Mr Aurela, related to key issues such as infrastructure, waste management, environmental and nuclear law (which are not always in harmony), facility siting, technological delays, human resources, etc.
The economic challenges of new build that were considered at length by decision-makers in Finland related primarily to competitiveness, the poor state of electricity markets and financing mechanisms, including supplier-driven financing, cooperatives, equity funding and intergovernmental agreements.
In conclusion, MR Aurela said that each case is different and circumstances can vary a lot. He emphasised that one weak link in a new build project can ruin its chances of receiving a decision in principle (DIP) and that waste management and a poor financial climate are often the most problematical factors.
The Belgian scenario
Paul Rorive, Director of Nuclear Activities at GDF Suez, Belgium, then addressed delegates on the subject Towards nuclear new build: Outlook and challenges. Mr Rorive began by outlining the history of nuclear in Belgium, where GDF Suez operates two NPPs – Tihange and Doel. He then outlined the vision of GDF Suez, namely to ‘maintain, preserve and promote’ nuclear energy by consolidating its nuclear assets and developing new capacity.
He then asked the question: Where does Belgium go from here now that it has decided to phase out nuclear? Well, GDF Suez is supporting new build abroad. So, switching his attention to the international new build market, he outlined the main criteria used when assessing the feasibility and profitability of new build projects abroad. A major evaluation process is undertaken before choosing which country to approach. GDF Suez prefers to develop new nuclear as a co-owner and operator because it sees itself above all as a provider of electricity. It applies certain evaluation criteria when assessing the suitability of a project abroad. These criteria include a stable and long-term political commitment, a clear legal and regulatory framework, technology choices, radioactive waste management solutions, financing, risk mitigation and public acceptance. As far as GDF Suez is concerned, its strategy is - once these profitability criteria have been assessed - to sign formalised contracts, share costs with local nuclear operators or partners and have clear governance from the very beginning of a project. This process was applied when setting up NUGEN and for the partnership agreement with Toshiba. Another example of a chosen country is Turkey, where the Sinop Project (Turkey has signed an agreement with GDF Suez, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Tochu to build 4 units) is currently in the pre-development phase.
Mr Rorive then highlighted the support that GDF Suez is giving to the development of ‘high safety level’ Generation III reactors through the agreements it has signed with 3 reactor suppliers, for the EPR, AP1000 and ATMEA1 reactors.
After outlining his company’s efforts in the area of human resources development, including its recruitment and retention campaigns and its training programme, he gave participants an overview of the extensive advertising campaigns that the Belgian Nuclear Forum has carried out in recent years. These campaigns aimed to inform the Belgian public more about how nuclear energy contributes to their daily lives and, by so doing, raise the profile and increase public acceptance of nuclear in Belgium.
Poland’s new nuclear programme
The final presentation of the first plenary session was given by Beata Sparazynska, of the Polish Ministry of Economy. An expert in nuclear law, Ms Sparazynska gave a broad brush stroke of the current state of play and prospects for new build in Poland. She began by outlining the Polish energy mix, highlighting her country’s ‘overbearing dependence’ upon coal and lignite. This led to a detailed appraisal of the economic justification behind Poland’s decision to opt for nuclear energy. Essentially, Poland decided to go nuclear for the first time, because rising electricity consumption forecasts, ageing existing power plants, the need to reduce CO2 emissions in order to be compatible with climate change mitigation goals, the systemic vulnerability of the Polish energy market and little room for energy savings, all contributed to making the need for increased capacity very urgent, thus reinforcing the case for nuclear. In 2025, nuclear will be the cheapest source of electricity for Polish consumers. In short, they opted for nuclear because long-term security of supply needs, maintaining electricity prices at acceptable levels, and reducing CO2 emissions are best served by introducing nuclear power. What’s more, she added, nuclear will bring Poland’s economy benefits beyond the energy sector, particular in the field of innovation, engineering capacity and new jobs.
Ms Sparazynska then pointed the way forward by underlining Poland’s nuclear energy roadmap, which was finalised in January 2014. At the moment, the main components of Poland’s new build programme are: the setting up of the required institutional framework, the adapting of the legal framework (huge amendments have had to be made to nuclear power law), changing the law related to investments, the development of human resources (including new university courses in Poland and study internships in France), a widespread public information and education campaign, considerable support for R&D support (two research institutes have been merged with a separate new nuclear power division) and expert collaboration to support the setting up of a new regulator.
The site selection process for the building of the first ever NPP in Poland is well underway, with 3 main locations competing. PGE, Poland’s largest utility, is carrying out detailed investor analyses. However, the government’s decision-in-principle on investments still has to be made.
On the question of radioactive waste in Poland, one surface repository will be closed in 2020. The location of a new site is currently being investigated, with the main future focus being on the choice of a deep underground repository.
After the presentations a roundtable debate on the subject of nuclear new build took place involving nuclear suppliers. It gave rise to a number of comments and questions from the floor and prompted the active participation of delegates. The panel members were: Arthur de Montalembert, Executive Vice President Business Development, AREVA; Mike Kirst, Vice President, Strategy and External Affairs, Westinghouse EMEA; Nikolai Drozdov, Director of the International Business Department, Rosatom; Philippe Anglaret, President, French Nuclear Suppliers Association; David Powell, Vice President Europe Region, GE Hitachi and David Boath, Chief Engineer, AMEC.
This first plenary session of ENC 2014 above all made delegates focus on the many economic, social and environmental benefits that nuclear new build in those countries that are investing in - or considering investing in - nuclear new build. The challenges, political, economic and social, are numerous too. But new build is here to stay and is truly global.