Brexit, Energy Security and the Nuclear Industry

An interesting paper has been issued by the House of Lords, European Union Committee (10th Report of Session 2017–19, HL Paper 63, Brexit: Energy Security). This looks at the potential impact of the UK leaving the EU on the supply of electricity and gas. It finds that we may lose some of the market efficiencies we enjoy as a member and may have to make political concessions to retain some benefits, may have a accept higher prices for using interconnectors, and may be in a poorer position in the event of a continent-wide energy shortage.

There is a big uncertainty about the influence the UK will have on European energy policy when outside the EU and further debate about how, if at all, this will affect us. This theme was summarised by the statement that “Brexit can have severe long term implications for UK’s energy security if economically rational outcomes are not sought by both sides”.

From the point of view of trading electricity the EU does not seem to be a very good option for a trading partner. The report looks at the experiences of Norway and Switzerland. The EU seems to want to impose its own rules, not just the current rules but all future ones. To use the Norway model would be to lack any say in the rule making but to be a member of the EFTA, which the UK has rejected. Switzerland sits at the centre of Europe and has 40 interconnectors between it and the EU. Despite this it does not have the ease of trading electricity with the EU. Meanwhile, we are told that, “a study requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy concluded: “With or without the UK, the EU will be able to complete its market, to achieve its climate and energy targets with feasible readjustments, and to maintain supply security.”

On the energy security front, the committee worried that we would cease to benefit from “EU solidarity” so, if energy was in short supply the EU members would be more likely to share what was available between themselves rather than allow it across interconnectors to the UK. The report concluded that: “Post-Brexit, the UK may be more vulnerable to supply shortages in the event of extreme weather or unplanned generation outages. While we note the Minister’s confidence in future UK energy security, we urge the Government to set out the means by which it will work with the EU to anticipate and manage cross-continent supply shortages that will affect the UK”.

There is an important section on Euratom. It is stated that: “not only do nuclear power stations supply a significant amount of low-carbon electricity [20%], but the continuity of that supply helps balance less predictable renewable sources, providing further assistance to the UK in meeting its decarbonisation objectives”. I’m not sure that this is entirely true if you take it to mean that a nuclear reactor will immediately take up the load if the wind drops. Nuclear energy provides “baseload” supply. Nuclear power stations work best when providing a constant level of output – load following is possible but is not one of their strengths. What really balances the unpredictable renewable sources are the rapidly variable generators such as hydro, gas turbines and diesel units. Not all of these score highly on the decarbonisation test.

It seems widely agreed that leaving Euratom will have no effect on nuclear safety – that is covered by UK regulation and the ONR. However, without replacement of the controls on the import and export of nuclear material, including fuel, and the free movement of skilled workers becomes more difficult. Without at least some of the Nuclear Co-operation Agreements held by Euratom being replicated trade becomes harder.

ONR have been given the task of Safeguarding but have stated that “Establishing a system that seeks to replicate all aspects of the current Euratom regime by March 2019 is unlikely to be achievable. A system that seeks to meet our international reporting obligations, and which can then be further developed over time is a more realistic starting point and is what we are aiming to achieve by March 2019

In summary. We are leaving a club that distinguishes between “them” and “us” and we don’t know how much difference being a “them” rather than an “us” will make to our relationship with the EU or its member states. The European energy markets are not necessarily going to be open to us in the transparent way they are now. This means that the price of energy flowing between the UK and EU becomes a political question as well as a market question. The market becomes less efficient. Our place in the queue when the whole of Europe is lacking energy also changes for the worst.

Britain should have an energy policy that ensure that our lights stay on. The role of the EU member nations in that policy must not be taken for granted.

Costs of decommissioning UK nuclear industry

cost of decommissioining

The NDA have issued a statement on the estimated costs of decommissioning the parts of the UK nuclear industry that they are responsible for (here).

It shows total costs in the range £97 billion – £222 billion with a best estimate of £119 billion over 120 years. Discounted cost is put at £164 billion which is higher than the unadjusted cost because the NDA now use negative discounting rates as explaining in the supporting document from the Treasury (here) but more clearly in an Annex to the Annual Report (here).

The current value of £164 billion compares to £160.6 billion a year ago. This includes £1.3 billion being added to the estimated cost of completing the job. Inflation and changes to the discount rates being applied explains the rest of the increase.

So despite £3.243 billion being spent and an Annual Report talking of good progress the estimated cost to completion is more than it was at the start of the reporting period.

The Annual Report admits that £100 million was spent in compensation following the flawed contest for the Magnox contract.



A Korean APR 1400 for Moorside?

It looks possible that the Korean company TEPCO will take a major stake in the Moorside project. This may involve junking the design and regulatory  work already done on the UK AP1000 (Ref ONR Website) applying to build their own APR 1400 design. That may cause delays but they have a good record of building reactors.

Kepco was formed in 1951, has the brand statement “power with heart” and describes its main business as “Electric power, heat supply, telecommunications and gas supply” (Ref KEPCO website). According to Wikipedia it is just over 50% state owned.

Early news of TEPCO’s interest in Moorside was published in the Guardian in February 2017 (Ref)  More recent news is reported in the FT in July 2017 (Ref). New investment is thought necessary as Toshiba is struggling to survive (Ref).

Korea has a very credible history in the nuclear industry (Ref). The APR1400 being built at Barakah in Abu Dhabi is reported to be 95% complete and receiving nuclear fuel (Ref). But the news that Korea is withdrawing from nuclear power at home (Ref) is a cause for concern.

A one page overview of the APR 1400 reactor can be found at Ref  and a more detailed one at Ref. (See also Ref for a description of the APR+).

The first of these reactors, Shin Kori Unit 3, entered service in December 2016. Reports suggest that 7 further units are under construction and 4 more planned (Ref)) although the recent announcement of a plan to wind down domestic nuclear power (Ref) may have an impact on that programme.

The APR1400 is a 1450 MWe evolutionary PWR based on the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP) aspiring to provide both enhanced safety and economic competitiveness.

As shown in the circuit diagram below the reactor design has two steam generators but, unusually each of these has two reactor coolant pumps each feeding into a separate cold leg. The pressuriser, attached to one hot leg, and the steam generators are increased in size compared to previous models and the reactor outlet temperature has been dropped to cope better with transients.

From IAEA-CN-164-3S09

Leak before break technology has permitted the pipe restraint system to the simplified.

The Safety Injection System consists of four trains each with a safety injection tank and a safety injection pump. This system provides high pressure, low pressure and recirculation in one system. It injects directly into the Reactor Pressure Vessel to eliminate the potential for leakage from a damaged cold leg. The safety injection pumps are physically separated from each other reducing the probability of common mode failure in fires, sabotage or floods.

A steel lined, post tensioned concrete structure with a reinforced concrete internal layer provides containment, biological shielding and protection from external hazards. It contains the reactor, the reactor cooling circuits, the steam generators and the In-Containment Refuelling Water Storage Plant. The latter is a key safety feature providing cooling water in fault conditions and a large heat sink.

Interestingly the reactor is designed to be able to manage daily load following based on the Korean experience of demand of 100% output for 16 hours a day and 50% output for 4 hours a day with 2 hour power-ramps.