By Richard Johnson
While Japan’s reactors remain vulnerable two years after Fukushima disaster, more than 45 countries, ranging from sophisticated economies to developing nations are reported to be actively considering embarking upon nuclear power programs, The front runners after Iran are said to be UAE, Turkey, Vietnam, Belarus, Poland and Jordan.
According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), in countries aspiring to take to nuclear power, the issue is not necessarily being discussed at the government level. As it is, WNA does not expect those 45 countries to contribute very much to the expansion of nuclear capacity in the “foreseeable future”. The main growth, it says, will come in countries which are technologically well established.
WNA is a London-based international organization that promotes nuclear energy and supports companies of the global nuclear industry. In the longer term, it expects the trend to urbanisation in less-developed countries to greatly increase the demand for electricity, and especially that supplied by base-load plants such as nuclear. The pattern of energy demand in these countries would be similar to that of Europe, North America and Japan.
According to WNA, while power reactors are under construction in the UAE, in Iran, a reactor has started up and has been grid-connected. In Lithuania, Turkey, and Belarus, contracts has been signed, and legal and regulatory infrastructure is well-developed. Vietnam, Jordan, Poland and Bangladesh have committed plans, and legal and regulatory infrastructure is developing:
Well-developed plans exist but commitment is pending in Thailand, Indonesia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Chile. Israel, Nigeria, Malaysia, Morocco, and Kuwait are preparing plans. Discussions as serious policy option are under way in Namibia, Kenya, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Estonia & Latvia, Libya, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Syria, Qatar, Sudan, and Venezuela. But in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Norway, Ireland, and Kuwait, nuclear power is officially not a policy option at present.
However, WNA admits, by September 2012 the picture was less positive for the leading 14 countries, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expected only seven newcomer countries to launch nuclear programs in the near term. It did not name these, but Lithuania, UAE, Turkey, Belarus, Vietnam, Poland, and Bangladesh appear likely candidates. Others had stepped back from commitment, needed more time to set up infrastructure, or did not have credible finance.
One major issue for many countries, says WNA, is the size of their grid system. Many nuclear power plants are larger than the fossil fuel plants they supplement or replace, and it does not make sense to have any generating unit more than about one tenth the capacity of the grid (maybe 15% if there is high reserve capacity).
“This is so that the plant can be taken offline for refuelling or maintenance, or due to unforeseen events. The grid capacity and quality may also be considered regionally, as with Jordan for instance. In many situations, as much investment in the grid may be needed as in the power plant(s),” WNA explains.
WNA points out that in all countries governments need to create the environment for investment in nuclear power, including professional and independent regulatory regime, policies on nuclear waste management and decommissioning, and involvement with international non-proliferation measures and insurance arrangements for third party damage.
It refers to an IAEA publication titled ‘Considerations to Launch a Nuclear Power Programme’, which addresses the issues involved in a country deciding upon and implementing a nuclear power program. In particular publication looks at those considerations before a decision is made, before construction starts and subsequently.
According to the IAEA in mid-2010, 20 new countries expected to have nuclear power on line by 2030, though since then some have pulled back and only seven new countries are expected to have capacity on line by the early 2020s.
The IAEA has set out a phased ‘milestone’ approach to establishing nuclear power capacity in new countries, applying it to 19 issues. In broad outline the three phase approach is:
Pre-project phase 1 (1-3 years) leading to knowledgeable commitment to a nuclear power program, resulting in set up of a Nuclear Power Program Implementing Organisation (NEPIO). This deals with the program, not the particular projects after phase 2.
Project decision-making phase 2 (3-7 years) involving preparatory work after the decision is made and up to inviting bids, with the regulatory body being established. In phase 2 the government role progressively gives way to that of the regulatory body and the owner-operator.
In 2009 IAEA began offering Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) missions to assess national developments, and six INIR missions were conducted during 2009-2011 to evaluate the status of countries’ nuclear infrastructure development.
The first three were to Jordan, Indonesia and Vietnam, followed by others to Bangladesh, Belarus, Thailand and UAE to the end of 2012. In 2013 INIR missions are planned to South Africa – the first country with an operating nuclear power program that had requested this service – Poland and Turkey. Egypt, Kenya, Malaysia and Nigeria have also expressed interest.
Support for new nuclear programs
WNA points out that for new entrants to the nuclear industry which are moving towards fuel loading in their first reactor, the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) offers pre-startup peer reviews as part of its peer review program, particularly to address the situation of new plants in countries and organizations without previous nuclear power experience.
As of early 2011 it had undertaken 12 such reviews and with the great increase in construction happening, had 62 scheduled for the next five years. WANO’s goal is to do a pre-startup review on every new nuclear power plant worldwide.
The reviews seek to evaluate how each operating organization is prepared for startup and make recommendations for improvements based on the collective experience of the world industry. The transition between construction and operation at a nuclear power plant is a delicate period, and many incidents occur during the early months of plant operation – both Three Mile Island 2 (USA) and Greifswald 5 (Germany) were almost new units when accidents destroyed them.
Since January 2008, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) has been paying attention to new nuclear power projects in countries with no experience in this area, presumption being that the development of nuclear industry in a country needs at least 10 to 15 years in order to build up skills in safety and control and to define a regulatory framework.