Monday, April 10, 2006

Should Ireland go Nuclear?

Currently Ireland generates about 4.829 GW of electricity. Recently there has been a lot of talk about bringing Nueclar Energy into Ireland. Considering that an European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) the ones the Fins are installing at the moment can produce 1.6 GW of energy it would seems like a good idea. Also as many Nuclear plants consist of more then one reactor. We could technically get all our power from Nuclear and reduce our emission drastically.

When ever you talk about Nuclear energy one word springs to mind. Chernobyl. Now I wouldn’t get into this as we all know the story with it. The reason for the disaster is three fold. One, the design of the reactor was terrible the RMBK design had many flaws the flaw with the control rods was one of the main causes of the accident. The people carrying out the test messed up. They reduced the power to fast. Thirdly the clean up operation was disastrous.

Even though time has moved on since then and reactor design and procedures have moved on from then. Designs of plants are vastly superior and pretty much impervious to terrorist attack. But another Chernobyl is a possibility if even a remote possibility the advantages of Nuclear energy have to far out way the negatives.

Firstly some stuff about radiation. Radiation is quiet a normal thing. Banana’s are in fact quiet radioactive with Potassium 40. A cargo container of banana's could in fact look like someone trying to smuggle a nuclear weapon. Also where would medicine be without x-rays. By far and away the largest radioactive treat to us in Ireland is radon from the ground. I think Salthill in Galway is in fact on of the most radioactive places in Ireland which is on the other side of the country to Sellafield.

One of the main sources for energy loss in electricty generation is in transmission. When a current travels through a wire it heats up the wire proportional to the amount of current flowing in the wire. This effect is what is used in kettle’s. In transmission wires the voltage is very high. This is because the current is inversely related to the voltage. With Nuclear power because of its high output it will be one big power station. In Ireland we have the least dense population in Europe. This means that to serve the people of the country requires a lot of transmission lines per person then the rest of Europe. Therefore this means that the transmission system will bring in very high inefficiencies in the transmission of power. There is roughly a 20% loss in electrical lines on a 1000km journey with our most high voltage lines. Ireland has over 5000km of cables which would mean (terribly rough calculation on my part as it does not take in population density centres, line voltages and numerour other stuff so don't quote me on this) roughly a 66% loss over the entire country. Now if we have a nuclear power station in lets say Wexford to power the country because of the length of the transmission network needed to distribute the power. The cost of delivering the electricity to the customer increases rapidly as you have to not only produce what the customer wants you also have to produce what is lost. This is taken into account by the ESB already and they produce more then is used. But because they have numerous power stations spread throughout the country the distance between user and power station is short. However a big power plant in Wexford could be powering places hundreds of miles away leading to massive losses and increasing the price per kwhr for the consumer. Because of our needs we only need 1 or 2 Nuclear power stations the transmission distance would be a lot longer then they are now adding to the cost per KWhr. This same reason also runs in the favour of wind. As a turbine could be near every village the loses would be small. Also there is probably issues with having to upgrade the national grid but I don't know anything about the state of the grid so I will just say we can't simply plug in the Power Station we would have to redo a lot of the countries national grid.

Also one of the roles of the government should be to encourage to promote competition in the electrical generation market as this has positives for the market and society. Nuclear power plants will lead to a centralised National grid which will make it difficult for competition to enter the market. Peter Nolan of the Freedom Inistitute talks about the need for Competition in the Business Post

A Nuclear plant would produce a high % of our power. That means that it would mean that we are putting our eggs in one basket. If for instance we took 1 generator off the market for maintance we would be taking out a large portion of our electricity generation capacity. This would mean that we would have to then import electricity from Europe as backup. This requires interconnectors. Currently there is 1 interconnector between us and Britian that comes via the north. It imports about 330MW into Ireland. This would have to be expanded about 500% to cover the fall in electricity if the generator(presumming we follow the Fins) had to be taken down for maintance. The interconnector being proposed between Ireland and Wales has a capacity of 500MW and is expected to cost €183 million. The interconnector beween Northern Ireland and Scotland cost about €220 million.

Nuclear will not make Ireland self-sufficient in energy. It requires Uranium to work. Currently the main sources of Uranium are in North America and Australia which is nice as they are stable unlike the sources of oil. It is predicted that there is about 50 years of supplies left. There is renewed interest in nuclear in the world. China is planning to build 32 plant in 15 years. The demand for Urainium will increase further decreasing the amount left. If new resources are found they are predicted to be most likely found in China, Africa and Russia which are also not that nice, stable and as the Ukrainian Gas controversy showed they would not be unwilling to use resources for political ends. While it is possible to recycle it that requires reprossing plants which are expensive and increase the cost of the fuel. The cost of reprocessing is expensive it is predicted that until the cost of Uranium is at $360 per Kg will reprocessing be economical. Thorp in Sellafield cost £2.1 billion to build.

The reason Nuclear is coming back in vogue is due to the increase in oil prices. Oil in the last 4 years has increased by 300% and is considered high. Uranium on the other hand has increased by 400% and is considered low. While the cost of the fuel is a large proportion of the cost with fossel fuel burning (60% in a coal station for example) then with Nuclear it still about 10% of the cost and Uranium is set to rise as it is considered at a low price and demaned is increasing. In case you are wondering the current price is about $40 pre KG. Thus it would require a 900% increase to make reprocessing feasible.

The costs of building Nuclear plants are huge. The new plant in Finland was €3.2 billion. This figure is considered by some to be low balled by the companies and is an as built basis. This means that if the cost of the plant is over run then the company building it covers the rest of the cost. The company building it is Areva which is 84% owned by the French government. A new reactor has not been built in years. This reactor in Finland is an EPR reactor which the French company that is building the plant has been working on. It has yet to be fully tested and operated this will be the first plant it will be used in. This plant is needed by them as they need to test the reactor. They promised a load factor of 90 percent, a degree of efficiency of 36 percent, a technical operating life of 60 years, a 15-percent lower consumption of uranium than for earlier reactors, and considerably lower operating and maintenance costs than at existing reactors. This is considered optimistic. With so few nuclear reactors being built in the world and with varying designs giving various operating costs it is difficult to get what the generation costs of a plant are. While with other forms which are widespread like oil and gas the cost per kwHr (includes building and decommissioning cost) is well known. Thus figures on cost per KWhr are open to interpretation and vary hugely.Not only has there been many papers about the costs there is also papers about the papers.

The figure from the International Energy Agency is 1.2–2.7 p/kWh while the forecast for Sizewell B the latest British plant is 6p/kWh. The figure for the Canadian association is 3.3/kWh. While MIT have said 3.7-4.4p/kWh and the Royal Academy of Engineers say 2.3 Which of these figures is right I have no idea. All come from various good sources and all differ so take your pick. Many of the low estimates are based on plants that got state aid. So should that be included in the calculation. I would say yes and take a guesstamation figure close to 3.5p but as they say lies dahm lies and statistics.

So then what are the costs roughly of other plants from Royal Academy of Engineers.

Gas 2.2p

Coal 2.5p

Clean Coal 3.2p

On Shore Wind 3.7

Off Shore 5.5p

The Graph came from the Economist

Again wind is a controversial figure with other sources claiming lower figures for wind but I will deal with that in a post about what to do with the future energy needs.

Most of those figures did not to my knowledge deal with the waste issue so they do not included the cost of the managing the nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is radioactive and highly dangerous for thousands of years. Thus the waste has to monitored carefully. Conventional wisdom is that it has to watched for 100 years very closely and then can be buried in highly elaborated specially built geological caves about a km under the ground however none have been built yet in the world. The costs for the latest Finish plant are predicted .

"The total investment costs of the disposal facility are estimated to be 503 M€ (Million Euros), the total operating costs are 1,923 M€ and the decommissioning and the closure costs are 116 M€ totaling 2,542 M€. The investment costs of the above ground facility are 142 M€, the operating costs are 1,678 M€. The repository investment costs are 360 M€ and the operating costs are 245 M€. The decommissioning costs are 7 M€ and the closure costs are 109 M€.
The one thing that is probably saving Nuclear in a debate is Kyoto. Nuclear has less carbon emissions then fossil fuels. Even though the mining and the milling produce carbon dioxide is it not as much as fossil fuels. Thus it can reduce carbon emissions for a country and thus save it from being penalised by Kyto emissions trading. However I am not 100% convinced by the dangers of global warming. But I am convinced of the dangers of radioactive waste. If we want to reduce emission creating an environmental problem for 1000 years is not to way to go about it.

Nuclear is not the option for Ireland. The economics of it do not suggests that it has any great advantages to it. Coupled together with the peculiarities of the Irish Transmission network, the smallness of the country, the cost of dealing with waste, the running out of Uranium, the cost of reprocessing, the security of supply issues and the likely delays in construction due to protests the case for Nuclear in Ireland just doesn’t add up. Add to the mix what would happen in the remote likelihood of an explosion and Nuclear just doesn’t make sense.

For more read the recent British Sustainable Development Comissions report The Role of Nuclear Power in a Low Carbon Economy. Which argues against additional Nuclear capacity

Update: Fecking blogger one word was massive there for a while changed now.


Anonymous said...

This is quite possibly the most objective, intelligent and considered piece I have read yet nuclear in an Irish context or indeed electricity. No it is absolutely the best. Further I couldn't agree more. I'm also impressed that you covered all aspects of the chain, things which are usually ignored, like transmission hugely impact on the answer you get, although they apply as much to wind as nuclear (but for different reasons). One possible weakness is your focus at cost of production and not price, but then only a couple of insiders can really comment on that. Nuff said, keep up the great work!

Simon said...

the transmission doesn't matter for wind quiet as much as it is possible to localise wind somewhat especcial outside dublin. the outskirts of every town could have a small wind farm.

But thanks for the compliment :)

Anonymous said...

I know you said not to correct you on the transmission calculations but I think I have to. We might have 5,000km of transmission line but not every piece of current travels every line. My understanding is that the total loss is about 2%, not 66%.

Apart from that it's a good piece, thanks.

Simon said...

Ever since I posted that I regreted adding the 66% thing it was stupid.

But anyway. main point being nuclear would mean fewer stations thus higher losses. Thus more electricty need to be generated. Thus needed to be accounted for in price per kw comparisions

Anonymous said...

It's a pity yet another simplistic article has been written about nuclear power.

- "main point being nuclear would mean fewer stations thus higher losses"

Nuclear power plants typically generate electricity in the range of 0.6 to 1.6 GWe. If we followed Finland's suit, we would generate a third of Ireland's electricity with a nuclear plant.

If a nuclear plant was constructed in Dunfirth or Blake, it would cover more than a third of the population (Dublin and commuter belt) with an 18 kilometre radius. Power loss on this scale would be insignificant.

If the plant had to be taken offline, the country would still be at two-thirds capacity. This often happens with Moneypoint, which burns coal; capacity is reduced to around 10% from midnight to 6am.

- "Nuclear power plants will lead to a centralised National grid which will make it difficult for competition to enter the market."

Our electricity transmission grid is owned and managed seperately from the electricity generating companies (see

Current supplies of uranium are expected to last for the next 50 years, however the expected discovery of uranium is many times the current stockpile. The same sceanario happened in 1890 and the 50's with oil, but discoveries such as Texas and Saudi Arabia increased the supply of oil greatly. Also, research into using thorium as an alternative to uranium for nuclear fission fuel is promising, and thorium is significantly more abundant than uranium. This technology will come online long before fusion.

- "However I am not 100% convinced by the dangers of global warming. But I am convinced of the dangers of radioactive waste."

The pollution from oil and coal burning plants kill thousands of people every year from lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. Radioactive waste is low volume and containable, unlike the waste from fossil fues power plants. The Finns are constructing boreholes, in which their nuclear waste will be contained until it is safe.

I support wind energy for Ireland first, but with wind turbines being built in a linear fashion, which would you choose to build; an oil plant, a coal plant or a nuclear plant? The real issue for getting nuclear is cost and safety. France is laughing at the rest of the world, safe and cosy with their cheap and guilt-free electricity. People like you who dress up your narrow-minded opinions in politically correct clothes, starting with an unjustified opinion and work your way backwards, do more harm to our society than you think. It's you who are keeping us stuck 20 years behind the rest of Europe.

You and your irrational, outdated opinions are the reason Ireland will never have a nuclear station. I'm looking forward to when we have to import nuclear energy from Britain. Hopefully they will build a plant up north too.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your comments. I notice you didn't respond to my points on the cost of nuclear at all.

as for the uranium supplies i did ackknowledge that their will be other finds but they will be in africa and china creating a whole new middle east and we all know how stable that is.

as for the point of powering dublin you are right there would be a lot of power in a confined area there. but whether it is 1/3 of the power. i have no idea. remember the largest user of electricty in ireland is in limerick and the pharmacetical plants in cork would be big as well.

the eirgrid is managed seperaratly but the design of the grid is goping to be such as to accomadate the larger plants. you don't simply hook into the grid you know.

as for a plant up north i wouldn't mind really as long as we don't have to pay for it

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply.

As for the issue of cost, there are many things which have to be considered, a proper cost analysis needs to be done to establish if a nuclear plant would be economical compared to using oil/coal. The Finnish nuclear plant will cost around the €3 billion mark, however any power plant is a huge initial cost. Moneypoint cost £700 million in 1979. That's €900 million plus 27 years of inflation. And it goes through 2 million tonnes of coal every year, with 2/3 the output of an EPR. French electricity, though heavily subsidised, is the cheapest in the EU. 90% of it is generated by nuclear and hydro. If nuclear power was more expensive than all other types, 31 countries would not have built 441 nuclear plants. Nuclear power generates 17% of the worlds electric power. The cost of energy from oil is well known, but it's also high. Despite uraniums price hike of 400%, it is still a cheap commodity.

As for future uranium supplies being in a new middle east, it's hard to see how that would be more problematic than the middle east we have right now. Bearing in mind we don't where a new supply of uranium might turn up (like the Saudi Arabian oil deposit in the 50's), China and Russia, while not the friendliest countries, are both trading countries, with Russia soon to be in the WTO. India are pouring money at thorium nuclear research, which can already be used in some types of reactor. Thorium deposits are 4 times that of uranium, so once this technology become mainstream, the product used for nuclear fission will be both cheap and plentiful.

I'm uncertain if the Dublin and East region uses 1/3 of the electricity generated in the country, however, given that just over 1/3 of the population is in this area, along with all the commerce and industry in county Dublin, i have no doubt a 1600 MWe nuclear plant would not be sending electricity a long distance to be used. The plant in Finland will make around 1600 MWe, Ireland uses just under 5000 MWe, therefore one of these nuclear plants would make 1/3 of the electricty we need.

Your point about Irelands population density makes no sense. Many countries with lower population densities have nuclear plants. The US (a country which can't be accused of giving government subsidies to the buiding of power plants) have 104 nuclear stations. Sweden generate almost half their electricity with their 10 nuclear plants. And Finland, with one quater the population density that we have, has 4 nuclear plants, with 2 on the way. Finland and Sweden are liberal countries with impeccable environmental records. The fact that they have embraced nuclear energy the way they have should say something about the energy they have chosen.

According to the Transmission Development Plan published by Eirgrid, capital expenditure for the 2006-2010 period will be in the region of €520 million. This is to add new transformers, build new lines for new sources of electricity and to upgrade existing lines. If a new power station was built to service the East, with a 20 kilometer radius of lines, I can't see why this would fall out of the scope of what Eirgrid has already planned for. If it will cost half a billion euro to service the entire grid for 5 years, building infrastructure for 1 power plant in a relativly confined area could not be prohibitivly expensive.

A plant up north would be best of both worlds; less electricity from fossil fuel, and no capital expense of building and decommissioning a reactor.

Every passing day, with oil rising in price and falling in volume, makes nuclear a logical alternative to using coal or oil. The best policy was being pursued by Germany's last environment minister, shutting down many nuclear plants and building hydro and wind instead. This is the real long-term solution, which unfortunatly is not being pursued by the christian democrats with the same enthusiasm.

Nuclear is not perfect. But the one question i ask you, with demand for electricity here expected to increase by 20% over the next 10 years, which is the better choice for a new power plant; Oil, coal or nuclear?

(Please don't say you would build more hydro and wind instead of choosing one of these 3, our government's target for renewable energy for 2010 is still only 13.2%, and a baseline power station is still needed, so make a choice and say why.)

Anonymous said...

You, sir, have been ZINGERED! At least a reply would be nice for that chap.

Simon said...

I thought I would leave my thoughts on this post as are because I have my thoughts made but considering i have been zingered a few points.

If nuclear power was more expensive than all other types, 31 countries would not have built 441 nuclear plants.

Many were built for military reasons,and many stem from the 1977 oil crisis. When alternatives were not available.This can be seen by the fast rise of uranium prices in late 70s early 80s. Also many reactors were built in the 50s when they thought they would be the fuel of the future. While finding it was not what they thought

As for future uranium supplies being in a new middle east, it's hard to see how that would be more problematic than the middle east we have right now.

You are dead right with what you say. How could it be more problamitic then the current middle east. So do you really want a second one. on your hands?
Nuclear is not perfect. But the one question i ask you, with demand for electricity here expected to increase by 20% over the next 10 years, which is the better choice for a new power plant; Oil, coal or nuclear?

I would refer to you thing about the christian dems in Germany as the answer to that questions. In conjunction with flow batterys. Remember you also need base load with nuclear power due to it down time. I quiet like clean coal technologies.

And Finland, with one quater the population density that we have
1 they are all grouped together the none of them live in lapland. and also they used 80.79 billion kwhr we use 23 billion.

a country which can't be accused of giving government subsidies to the buiding of power plants
from 1948 on. about 2/3 of US federal research subsidies went to nuclear. It is massive they also underwrite liability. Many experts say that the nuclear industry in america would not survive without subsidies. Sos you really can.

The fact that they have embraced nuclear energy the way they have should say something about the energy they have chosen.
They also embrace high tax. Just because they chose it and it is fit for them to use does not mean it is fit for us.

I am off to bed