According to the World Nuclear Association's World Nuclear News, some 60 countries are considering the use of nuclear power, in addition to the 30 that already do so. The figure comes from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which held a four-day workshop to develop tools to help those countries make the decision. It said that 20 of the states it is helping could have a program in place to use nuclear by 2030.
"Nuclear is a 100-year-long-commitment," said Yury Sokolov, who is in charge of the Nuclear Energy department of the IAEA. "A national energy policy should involve a proper assessment of a country's energy needs," and after that can a possible role for nuclear power be defined, if appropriate. Sokolov is then 'forgetting' the commitment for long-lived nuclear wastes, which is, too say the least, a bit longer than 100 years.
One key element in the IAEA's current toolkit for countries interested in nuclear energy is a book which details essential steps on the path to the use of nuclear power. Among them are the establishment of an independent expert safety regulator, an appropriate legislative framework and the development of a public debate on nuclear.
So, what is the reality of these plans? In August, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2009 (written by M. Schneider, S. Thomas, A. Froggatt, D. Koplow) was published. Main conclusion of the report is that a nuclear ‘renaissance’ is not happening. Part of the report is a more detailed look to potential newcomer countries.
Between 2006 and 2008 alone, the IAEA has received requests for technical cooperation from some 43 Member States. The IAEA accounts for the introduction of nuclear power in 20 new countries by 2030 in its high projection and on five newcomer countries in its low projection. As detailed in the following table, not all countries that ask for assistance are actually planning to introduce nuclear power plants. Rather, the IAEA notes that some are merely “interested in considering the issues associated with a nuclear power programme”.
Tabel 1: Positions of Potential Nuclear Newcomer Countries.
Definition of group
Number of Countries
Not planning to introduce nuclear power plants, but interested in considering the issues associated with a nuclear power program.
Considering a nuclear program to meet identified energy needs
with a strong indication of intention to proceed.
Active preparation for a possible nuclear power program with no
Decided to introduce nuclear power and started preparing the
Invitation to bid to supply a nuclear power plant prepared.
New nuclear power plant ordered
New nuclear power plant under construction.
Only one newcomer country, Iran, is already in the course of building a nuclear power plant.
France has been particularly active in negotiating new nuclear trade or cooperation agreements with potential newcomer countries. According to Philippe Pallier, director of the newly created Agence France Nucléaire International (AFNI), France received requests by "several tens of countries" for assistance to implement a civil nuclear power program. Agreements were signed or are under negotiation in particular in North Africa and in the Middle East, including Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, interest in nuclear energy has been demonstrated by Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, and Yemen. The US government has signed a nuclear agreement with the United Arab Emirates and memoranda of understanding on nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Jordan has set up a Committee for Nuclear Strategy and received initial proposals by KEPCO (South Korea), AREVA, Atomstroyexport and AECL (Canada). Construction is projected to start as early as 2012.
In Asia potential candidates for French atomic help include Thailand and Vietnam. China, Russia and South-Korea are said to have offered assistance to Bangladesh to build a nuclear power plant, a “46-year old plan”, the Financial Express notes.
In Europe Albania and Croatia are discussing the possibility of building a joint nuclear plant. Montenegro and Bosnia have been invited to join the project. The Italian utility ENEL is said to have evaluated the feasibility of the project.
Portugal is said to be reviewing a nuclear project that could serve Spain as well. However, in the past the government has rejected nuclear proposals and Spain has currently a firm nuclear phase out policy.
Lithuania invited Poland, Estonia and Latvia to build a joint “Baltic” nuclear plant to replace the remaining second Ignalina reactor that will be shut down by the end of 2009 according the country’s EU accession agreement. However, even after the shutdown of Ignalina, power consumption in the other countries would not justify the construction of a large nuclear plant. Financing is also a major issue.
Belarus, the country that was worst hit by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, has received offers for a nuclear plant from Atomstroyexport, AREVA and Westinghouse.
Of 38 potential nuclear newcomer countries listed by the World Nuclear Association, 15 don’t have nuclear experience on research-reactor level (considered as one of the prerequisites for the operation of a commercial plant) and 20 have an electricity grid that is smaller than 10,000 MW (considered by the IAEA as the minimum grid capacity to add an additional large unit -1000MW or 10%- of any type in order to prevent grid interface problems). Seventeen countries have both research-reactor experience and larger than 10,000 MW grids.
What are the prospects of a nuclear power program in these countries?
Australia is a large uranium producer but the introduction of nuclear power always faced significant controversy. A December 2006 report to the Prime Minister, the Switkowski Report, suggested the rapid introduction of a nuclear power program in the country. An international panel of experts, including three of the authors of this report, concluded that the Switkowski Report was highly biased and that the targets were unrealistic. Nothing has happened since. Any significant follow-up over the coming 20 years in industrial terms is highly unlikely. Switkowski acknowledged in March 2009 that once the people accepted nuclear power “it would be at least another 15 years before a reactor could be built”. In fact, the newly elected Australian government will put that timeframe even further away. As Martin Ferguson, Minister for Resources and Energy has recently restated, “the Government has a clear policy of prohibiting the development of an Australian nuclear power industry”.
It has been reported that in November 2007 the Chilean President asked the Energy Minister to look into the nuclear power option. A modest effort seems ongoing, as in 2009 the government allocated CP$430 million (US$665,000) to study nuclear power. Even such a minor expenditure raised significant criticism by the environmental community in the country. There are no short or medium term prospects for a nuclear power program.
In Egypt it is already 35 years since the first nuclear power plant was proposed. The plan never materialized. More recently Egypt signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia and China. In December 2008 the government announced that it had selected the US company Bechtel (later transferred to Worley Parsons) to provide assistance in selecting a reactor provider and to train staff. A 1,000 MW plant is planned to start up by 2017.
Nuclear power projects in Indonesia have a 20-year history. In 1989 the National Atomic Energy Agency (BATAN) carried out the first studies. In 2007 the Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) agreed to develop a new feasibility study for two 1,000 MW reactors. Cooperation agreements were also signed with Japan and Russia. Indonesia’s Minister for Research and Technology was quoted in March 2008 as stating that the country would need four 1,200 MW units by 2025 and that the first one was to go online by 2016. Construction would have to start in 2008. “Otherwise, we will be behind schedule”, he stated. Indonesia will be behind schedule. No call for tender has been announced yet. The nuclear plans have raised concerns and protests because of intense volcanic and earthquake activities in the areas envisaged to host a plant, in particular in Central Java. There is little prospect for near or medium term nuclear power plant operation and no target dates have been announced.
Israel has developed a full-scale nuclear weapons program and thus has strong nuclear capabilities. Several arguments speak against a short and medium term nuclear power program in the country. With a grid size of just 10,000 MW a nuclear plant would be clearly oversized. The country has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is therefore technically isolated. Nuclear power plants are sometimes called pre-deployed nuclear weapons. There are few places where this perspective seems more pertinent than in the case of Israel. And finally, Israel is a major player in the renewable energy sector. An Israeli company currently plans to construct in California the world’s largest solar project, a 1,300 MW plant. A similar project with 500 MW will be started up by 2012 in Israel.
The Berlusconi Government has introduced legislation that would pave the way for the reintroduction of nuclear power in Italy. Four EPRs could be built with construction starting as early as 2013, under an agreement signed in February 2009 by the French utility EDF and the largest Italian utility ENEL. However, Italy is the only country that shut down its nuclear program after the Chernobyl accident in 1986 and a referendum in 1987 reinforced the decision. Four operational reactors and four units under construction were abandoned and no nuclear electricity was generated after 1987. Twenty years later, Italy continues to face significant decommissioning and waste management costs. There is no final repository for high-level waste and the public remains hostile. Italy had built up a significant nuclear industry and still has a strong nuclear lobby. More recently ENEL announced investments in nuclear plants outside the country, in particular in the Slovak Mochovce plant and the French Flamanville-3 unit. This strategy seems much more realistic than any short or medium term revival of nuclear power in Italy itself.
Kuwait announced plans in March 2009 to set up a national nuclear energy commission and has introduced draft legislation to achieve this. The country is in the very early stages of designing a possible nuclear power policy. With only 11,000 MW, its grid is very small. Applications in the short and medium term are unlikely.
The Indian nuclear industry has stated that it would be ready to assist Malaysia in developing a nuclear power program “if there is a genuine interest, as nuclear power production is a long term commitment". There are no short or medium term perspectives or ambitions.
In Norway a government appointed committee recommended in February 2008 that “the potential contribution of nuclear energy to a sustainable energy future should be recognized." However, as the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency’s Norway country profile states: “Norway does not have a nuclear power generation programme.”
The Philippines abandoned a nuclear power project in the past. A 600 MW Westinghouse reactor, Bataan-1, was ordered in 1974 and building started in 1976. The nearly complete project was abandoned by the incoming Aquino government days after the Chernobyl accident in 1986. However, payments apparently continued until 2007. In February 2008 the IAEA visited the site at the request of the Philippine government. There have been successive attempts from Members of Congress to introduce bills mandating the rehabilitation of the plan, the latest in December 2008. "The government has to assess what the new licensing requirements should be, how to modernize the two-decades old technology to current standards, and how to confirm that all aspects of the plant will function properly and safely. It is not the IAEA´s role to state whether the plant is usable or not, or how much it will cost to rehabilitate", the IAEA stated. The power plant site is close to an earthquake prone zone and the dormant Pinatubo volcano. Considering the disastrous experience with the initial investment, the absence of an appropriate nuclear framework (legislation, safety authorities, etc.) and significant opposition against the project in the country, it seems unlikely to go ahead.
Poland ordered five Russian designed reactors between 1974 and 1982. Work started on two units at Zarnowiec but all orders were officially cancelled by 1990. The current Polish government has revived the nuclear plans and stated that a first reactor should be operational by 2020. The state owned power utility PGE announced plans in January 2009 to build two 3,000 MW plants in the country. In addition, Poland has joined the Lithuanian Energy Organisation (LEO) alongside Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania with the project of a “Baltic plant” in a Visaginas called project. Originally a new plant replacing the Ignalina plant, which will close by the end of 2009, was planned to start up as early as 2015. No new realistic time frame nor financing schemes are available. No call for tender has been issued.
In Portugal “in 2004 the government rejected a proposal to introduce nuclear power but this is now being reviewed”, writes the WNA. However, Portuguese public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to nuclear power and there are no plans. As the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency’s Portugal country profile states: “Portugal does not have a nuclear power generation programme.”
In Thailand there have been nuclear power plans since the 1970s, none of which ever materialized. Under the previous government, the energy minister revived plans for the construction of four nuclear reactors with a total of 4,000 MW coming online by 2020-2021. However, the incoming government has not reiterated any of these plans.
While the IAEA does not identify the countries in the various categories in Table 1, it is clear that Turkey is the only potential newcomer country that has already launched a call for tender. But in September 2008 it had received only one offer, by the Russian Atomstroyexport (ASE), amongst the six potential bidders. In principle, the procedure had to go back to the starting point, since Turkish law does not allow for the attribution of such a contract if there is only one bidder. However, negotiations have been continuing around the offer from the Russian consortium, which includes ASE, Inter RAO UES and the Turkish company Park Teknik. The bid, based on the BOO (Build-Own-Operate) model, covers the construction of four 1200 MWe AES-2006 VVER reactors to be built near Mersin in the Akkuyu district. In February 2009 the project was subject to discussions between the Russian and Turkish presidents. Financing of the project remains a key problem. It has been reported that the initial Russian offer was to sell the power from the to-bebuilt plant at a price that would represent more than three times the current wholesale power price in Turkey. A revised offer would still be more than double current wholesale levels. However,
Akkuyu was the location of an earlier abandoned nuclear project that was based on a 100% prefinancing scheme and still failed. Turkey lacked, and continues to lack, consistent nuclear infrastructure and the project received fierce opposition by the local population. The latest proposal only revived the local protests.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), following recommendations by the IAEA, set up a Nuclear Energy Program Implementation Organization (NEPIO) and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) as a public entity with initial funding of US$ 100 million; and it has initiated steps to develop nuclear legislation. The move is following a government position paper on the “Evaluation and Potential Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy”. By 2020, the Emirates envisages operating three 1,500 MW units, but no decision was taken as of middle of May 2009. Although the UAE has signed a far-reaching nuclear cooperation agreement with France, there is strong resistance in the US Congress to the implementation of a similar agreement signed by the previous US administration at the very end of its term on 15 January 2009. “Given the UAE’s past history as the major transshipment point for goods destined for Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, serious concerns remain about its eligibility for a nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S.”, stated Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The strong bi-partisan opposition in the USA could seriously hamper any attempts by the UAE to go ahead with a nuclear power program, even if President Obama has officially authorized implementation. Also, the UAE would have to very substantially increase overall installed capacity and the grid, since a single 1,500 MW plant corresponds to about 10% of the currently installed capacity.
Venezuela passed a decree “on Development of the Nuclear Industry” as early as 1975, but never did develop a nuclear power program. In September 2008 President Chavez was quoted as saying “we certainly are interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful ends of course – for medical purposes and to generate electricity”. Russia and France have offered assistance in building up a nuclear program in Venezuela. However, apparently there are no concrete decisions or plans yet.
In 1996 Vietnam signed an agreement with South Korea for “Cooperation in Research into the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy”. Later cooperation agreements were also signed with other countries including Canada, China, France, Japan and Russia. In mid 2008 a nuclear law was passed with the view of constructing two 1,000 MW units starting in 2014 with a targeted grid connection of 2018. Vietnam is lacking general nuclear infrastructure and would have to invest considerably in grid expansion in order to absorb the production of the two units that represent almost 20% of the currently installed capacity.
It remains unlikely that any of the potential new nuclear countries can implement fission power programs any time soon within an appropriate technical, political, legal and economic framework. None of the potential newcomer countries have proper nuclear regulations, an independent regulator, domestic maintenance capacity and the skilled workforce in place to run a nuclear plant.
The head of the French Nuclear Safety Authority has estimated it would take at least 15 years to build up the necessary regulatory framework in countries that are starting from scratch. Furthermore, few countries have sufficient grid capacity to absorb the output of a large nuclear plant. This means that the economic challenge of financing a nuclear plant would be exacerbated by the large ancillary investments in the distribution network that would be required.
The countries that have a grid size and quality that could apparently cope with a large nuclear plant in the short and medium term encounter other significant barriers: a hostile or passive government (Australia, Norway, Malaysia, Thailand), an essentially hostile public opinion (Italy, Turkey), international non-proliferation concerns (Egypt, Israel), major economic concerns (Poland), a hostile environment due to earthquake and volcanic risks (Indonesia), lack of all necessary infrastructure (Venezuela). Many countries face several of these barriers at the same time.
The report World Nuclear Industry Status 2009, Commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety and published in August 2009, is very interesting reading. It can be found at: http://www.bmu.de/english/nuclear_safety/downloads/doc/44832.php
Sources: World Nuclear news, 27 July 2009 / World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2009, Mycle Schneider, Steve Thomas, Antony Froggatt, Doug Koplow
Contact: WISE Amsterdam