Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
February 13, 2022
The following editorial raises an important global issue on the future of nuclear (fission) energy. Nuclear energy is a safe zero-carbon energy source. It is also a space effective power source compared to solar and wind power plants. They require a very large footprint. Nuclear power plant is extremely reliable as a baseload power supply which is the backbone of economy.
Nuclear power is also a mature technology that has supplied a significant amount of energy in the USA with a longer history than solar and wind. Even though nuclear power industry has suffered only a few fatal accidents, but the damages have been horrific caused public panic. There is the
N-1=0 equation, where N is total number of nuclear power plants on the earth. While “1” stands for one nuclear power plant disaster. The equation states the fact: if there is one more nuclear power plant disaster anywhere in the world, the entire nuclear power industry is doomed.
Nuclear power plant safety has been improved significantly with new and better technology. But many of the public is not, or never will be, convinced. It is a great huddle for siting new nuclear power plant anywhere thus the renaissance of a global nuclear industry is uncertain.
The other major issue, which is properly raised in this editorial is the nuclear waste storage. The residue radiation and long-half time are concerns. Years of extreme anti-nuclear activities have framed the mind-set of absolute NIBY.
There are two major types of nuclear wastes, both need political leadership and government funding. The first type of nuclear waste is the legacy of cold-war ear nuclear weapon industry sites. The US government is obliged to clean-up with federal budget. The other type of nuclear wastes are results of civilian use including nuclear power plants.
The US does not ignore these responsibilities. The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, as designated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, is a proposed deep geological repository storage facility within Yucca Mountain for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste in the United States. However, the Congress has not been able to approve consistent funding. In May 2021, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that Yucca Mountain would not be part of the Biden administration’s plans for nuclear-waste disposal. She anticipated announcing the department’s next steps “in the coming months”.
Nuclear waste storages could be a global business. Australia has the potential to build a major storage facility to be leased. The Onkalo nuclear waste disposal facility under-construction in Olkiluoto, Finland will be the world’s first permanent geological repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.
The £444m($555m) underground nuclear waste storage facility is being developed and will be operated by Posiva, a joint-venture between Teollisuuden Voima (TVO, 60%) and Fortum Power and Heat (40%).
Posiva will be responsible for the final disposal of nuclear waste produced by TVO’s Olkiluoto nuclear power plant (NPP) as well as Fortum’s Loviisa NPP in Finland.
Scheduled to commence operations in 2025, the Onkalo nuclear waste repository is expected to hold approximately 6,500t of spent nuclear fuel over an estimated operational life of 100 years.
On February 12, 2022 12:05 AM Washington Examiner offered an opinion piece titled:
Nuclear waste can become the motherlode of clean energy with a statement: Over the next 15 years, China has claimed to be investing $440 billion in nuclear infrastructure development. Because once you solve the nuclear waste problem, anything is possible.
By Ed McGinnis who is a 30-year veteran of the Department of Energy and former assistant secretary of the Office of Nuclear Energy, is CEO of Curio.
The Global Energy Policy Problem No One Wants To Acknowledge
Editor OilPrice.com Sun, February 13, 2022, 12:00 PM
More than a decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the nuclear debate is once again raging in global forums. While fear about nuclear fallout and future tragedies like those that took place at Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island remains clear and present in the minds of many policymakers, the pressing need for rapid decarbonization of the global economy has brought nuclear, a zero-emissions proved technology, back to the forefront of energy policy debates.
While many nations – most notably Germany, who vowed back in 2011 to shutter all of its nuclear power plants by this year – remain staunchly opposed to nuclear power on the basis of the outsized risk posed by nuclear meltdown, many other countries are re-embracing the technology as an unfairly demonized and relatively safe clean energy alternative. While those aforementioned nuclear disasters loom large in the public consciousness, such nuclear disasters are exceedingly uncommon, and nuclear energy has actually been demonstrated to save lives on the whole.
In 2013, NASA’s Goddard Institute released a paper that calculated that the nuclear industry had already saved 1.8 million lives that would have otherwise been lost to air pollution from fossil fuels. The paper went on to calculate that if nuclear energy were to displace fossil fuels on a large scale, it could save up to 7 million more lives in the next four decades. Of course, if you were to factor in all of the lives that would otherwise be lost to causes associated with catastrophic climate change in a business-as-usual scenario where greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels continue to trend upward at the current rate, those numbers would skyrocket.
And then there is the energy security provided by a robust nuclear energy sector. To be sure, there are considerable barriers to entry for developing nations, as building new nuclear facilities is prohibitively expensive, but for countries with deep pockets nuclear is a dependable option that is consistent, relatively unencumbered by imports, and cheap to carry on once a plant is up and running. These factors are becoming increasingly attractive as a global energy crunch is highlighting the dangers of dependence on other countries and global supply chains to keep the lights on.
With these arguments in mind, nuclear power is back on the table for many countries, including China, India, and the United States, all of which have recently publicly stated that they are in favor of building up their nuclear energy sectors in the coming years. In fact, according to analysis by Rystad Energy, “investments in nuclear are expected to total $45bn in 2022 and $46bn in 2023, up from $44bn in 2021 […] with 52 reactors at present under construction in 19 countries worldwide.”
While the arguments in favor of nuclear are getting more and more traction, however, on the global stage relatively little lip service has been paid to one of the most pressing arguments against nuclear energy. While it’s true that the dangers of nuclear meltdown have been way overstated, the dangers and impracticalities of spent nuclear fuel have, if anything, been under-emphasized. “Nobody has yet given a satisfactory answer to the question of what to do with thousands of metric tonnes of high-level nuclear waste, some of which can remain radioactive, and thereby lethal, for up to 300,000 years,” the Financial Times astutely points out.
At present, it’s estimated that 250,000 metric tonnes of spent nuclear fuel is sitting in storage in 14 countries, primarily sitting in cooling pools at shuttered nuclear facilities as a temporary measure until someone, anyone, can figure out what to do with them. All this waste, in addition to being hazardous, is also – quite simply – a big pain in the ass. Finding areas that are willing to store such waste is no easy task, and often comes at a hefty price. In the UK, the cleanup of the Sellafield plant is expected to take more than 100 years with a price tag of over £90 billion (~$USD 122 billion). Across the pond in the US, the cost of spent nuclear fuel storage hit $7.5 billion back in 2019, a bill that has been passed to taxpayers.
Nuclear energy remains a promising part of the path toward decarbonization. At the end of the day, climate change poses a far greater threat than nuclear waste. However, if the world ramps up nuclear power production, nuclear waste storage is going to have to become far easier, cheaper, and more streamlined. So why is it still so absent in nuclear policy debates?
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com