Post-Fukushima Article in the NY Times

In response to my recent guest column in the New York Times on the nuclear industry’s future after Fukushima, the pro nuclear blogger at Idaho Samizdat criticized me for “starting off with a Halloween type scare tactic of saying the Fukushima crisis is a ‘fearful reminder’ of what can go wrong.” The blogger  (2 clicks to discover his identity) said he had “serious objections to Cooke’s views. I emailed them to her earlier this week. She has not responded with even an acknowledgement. I am writing this blog post without the benefit of her input and instead rely on the OP ED as published for my comments.” He also complained I wasn’t “nuanced” enough in my analysis.

I won’t comment on his criticism of my choice of adjectives. However, lest he think I am ignoring his criticism I’d like to point out that I was overseas when the column appeared and unable to respond to a bunch of emails because of time constraints and limited computer access. Now that I’m back and have had a chance to catch my breath and read the blogpost, I’d like to make a few points.

After initially stating that he has “serious objections” to my views, djysrv (Dan Yurman) ends his blog by concluding that  “Ms. Cooke’s negative musings about the future of nuclear energy, while mostly true in the broad sweep of things, appear to require significant clarification once a reader adopts a ‘skeptical attitude.’” In fact, it is Mr. Yurman’s analysis that requires correction and clarification, particularly with respect to China. While China was unofficially planning for 86 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020 (and much higher than that for 2030), it now looks like that figure is being cut back to somewhere between 60 and 70 GW. Also the 86 GW had not been made official prior to Fukushima, and as a previous commenter indicated, China is unlikely to resume new reactor approvals until early next year because it is still getting comment on its safety review. As for “delusional” Germany, it’s hardly news that the Czech Republic is planning new reactors and that it has its eyes on the European electricity market. But that was true before Fukushima. India certainly wants to move forward with newbuild but is being held back by a combination of political opposition and the government’s inability to satisfy vendor demands for liability legislation that would remove all vendor risk in the event of an accident. (Yurman calls the existing legislation which would assign some risk to vendors “harsh”.)  The UAE is in no way ready to move forward with its reactor project at the end of this year, as Mr. Yurman asserts (as someone else on his site has already pointed out). There is no contract yet with the South Koreans — and much negotiating lies ahead before any signing is likely. I think his projections for new nuclear capacity in countries like Vietnam and the UK are, shall we say, optimistic.

As for nuances, I can only say I tend to like to let the facts speak for themselves. The outlook for nuclear energy prior to Fukushima was not particularly bright with the exception of China, India and perhaps a few other countries, and both China and India were also facing numerous obstacles. After Fukushima, the industry’s future looks even less bright.

10 Responses to “Post-Fukushima Article in the NY Times”

  1. Dan Yurman  on October 16th, 2011

    This is my reply top Ms. Cooke’s response to my blog post about her NY Times guest column.

    Estimates of China’s actual capacity to build new nuclear reactors vary greatly and will be affected by the country’s ability to manufacture to the equivalent of NQA-1 standards. China will also have to increase greatly the number of nuclear engineers it produces.

    As for its safety reviews, it appears from Chinese English language media that the review of existing reactors was completed last June. This was reported by Chinese government officials to U.S. DOE nuclear program manager Pete Lyons.

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2011-06/15/content_12706142.htm

    Last August Chinese nuclear program managers told Reuters approvals of new reactor projects could re-start as early as December 2011.

    http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL4E7JU0LS20110830

    In August 2011 China fired up the Ling Ao II nuclear power plant for revenue service which is a CPR-1000, the focus of safety concerns in the West. The reactor went critical in February and was connect to the grid in May 2011. These actions are a clear signal China is not slowing down development of its nuclear fleet.

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/IT-Second_Ling_Ao_II_unit_enters_service-0808115.html

    However, the government said it would scale back the size of its new build. Last year China announced it would build the equivalent of 80 1,000 MW nuclear power plants. Now China’s National Energy Administration is saying it will complete an additional 30 GW of plants by 2015, and an additional 28 reactors in the next decade, for a total new build of about 60 GW.

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2011-08/31/content_13225025.htm

    The UAE has stated for the record to me through its Washington, DC, representation that pending regulatory approval the nuclear development agency there will break ground for the 1st of 4 reactors in December.

    http://www.coolhandnuke.com/Cool-Hand-Blog.aspx?ArticleType=ArticleView&ArticleID=85

    We simply disagree in our assessments of the situation in Vietnam and the U.K.

    I did not know Ms. Cooke was overseas and out of email contact. I did wait five days for an answer to my email to her before publishing my comments.

    I have been in the nuclear business for 22 years. My identity is easily found with any search on Google.

  2. Andy Dawson  on October 16th, 2011

    Perhaps “bright” is in the eye of the beholder, Stephanie.

    Froma European perspective, it’s true Germany has drawn back, along with Austria. Switzerland has taken an interestingly nuanced position – somewhere between withdrawal, and going forward. And Italy is as confused as ever. Outwith that, what’s the situation. The UK’s going “full steam” – we may not get out 16GW, but even a pessimist thinks we’ll see 9-10GW, and life extensions on 9GW of existing plant. France, Poland, Finland and the Czechs seem no less committed, as are the Romanians and Bulgars. Other countires have notably kept their powder dry – the Dutch and Swedes have failed, despite an obvious temptation to jump on the German bandwaggon (indeed, the former have reinforced commitment to expanding their nuclear sector). Others, like the Belgians and Spanish are in political paralysis, with the likely winners of new elections likely to be at least more favourably inclined to new build than the incumbents (or, in the Belgian case, the vacancy).

    You’ll see why I suspect you might be suffereing the usual American tendency to treat the European continent as one – but look closely, you’ll find we’re surprisingly disparate. Having said that, I know of few in the field that expect Germany to
    get even close to Merkel’s declared position of replacing nuclear with renewables. Indeed, it’s interesting just who’s putting their money on increased power exports into Germany – at least in part nuclear-fuelled.

    Further afield – Latin America seems committed – Brazil, Argentina and Chile show no signs of pulling back from earlier commitments, and if anything seem to be on an expanding track. In the Middle East, even inf the Emirates deal has some wayn to go, that’s a long way from it falling through (it’s a strange part of the world – deals once announced rarely fail to happen, although patience is sometimes required). And yes, Egypt has pulled back – but far more significant, the Saudis remain gung-ho, and the Jordanians committed (albeit less controversially).

    Further south in Africa, South Africa may not build 6 x 1600 MW stations – but at least four seem still likely to happen. And who knows (although it scares the proverbial out of me) Nigeria seems still to be in play.

    And, in India – where I spend a couple of months each year – bluntly, the issue is not one of whether nuclear plant will be built – it’s about whose technology (incredibly, Russian and locally developed plant doesn’t suffer half of the controversy surrounding the EPR deals).

    Go further east, and you’ll not see a slowing in build in South Korea or Taiwan. Nor in the “aspiring” economies of the region – Vietnam, Malaysia and so on.

    Risk looks very different to someone living on $2 or $3 per day, than it does to a college educated New Yorker, I promise.

    I suppose “nuance” is also in the eye of the beholder.

  3. Stephanie Cooke  on October 16th, 2011

    I agree that China faces many challenges in its nuclear program. Our perception at Nuclear Intelligence Weekly is that the Chinese are approaching newbuild with more caution than, say, a couple of years ago and this was evident well before Fukushima. Fukushima only accelerated this trend as far as we can tell. It also brought to the surface a simmering debate over Gen II vs Gen III technology, and a scaling back of goals for 2020. The two things may be related as a decision to opt for Gen III technology over Gen II would almost certainly lead to a slower rate of build. For all the hype about the Chinese program, it’s worth noting that even in the WNA’s most optimistic forecast, nuclear energy would contribute just 15% of China’s electricity (based on IEA demand projections) by 2030, up from about 2% now. It’s lower case scenario has it at around 7% — so it will probably be somewhere within that range. As for the UAE, it will be interesting to see what happens.

  4. Stephanie Cooke  on October 16th, 2011

    Thanks Andy. Actually I think France is going to be as interesting to watch as Germany. The WNA forecasts show France losing 8 reactors over the next couple of decades — which suggests they won’t be replacing them when they are closed for decommissioning. Apart from the project at Flamanville (over budget and delayed), there has been no talk of further reactors in France that I’m aware of. Additions in China, India, South Korea and Russia outnumber net declines in Germany, France, and the UK (with the US having fewer reactors but slightly more capacity) — according to the WNA, which is an industry association and therefore inclined to err on the bullish side. Not a lot is going on in South America. Taiwan is talking about some kind of phaseout, last we heard. Of course, all this could change. I was simply reporting on the landscape as it appears six months post the accident. In some respects it is true that the response has been quieter compared to the situation after Chernobyl (space limitations precluded a more lengthy discussion about this in the original article). The extent to which this may be true indicates to me that the world is more ready than it was then to accept the consequences of nuclear catastrophe in exchange for electricity, or that most people are simply unaware of what the Japanese are confronted with, or that people don’t think they can do anything much their sources of electricity generation — it’s probably a combination of all three.

  5. Brian Mays  on October 17th, 2011

    “India certainly wants to move forward with newbuild but is being held back by a combination of political opposition and the government’s inability to satisfy vendor demands for liability legislation that would remove all vendor risk in the event of an accident. (Yurman calls the existing legislation which would assign some risk to vendors ‘harsh.’)”

    This comment grossly misrepresents the situation, which is rather disappointing. The most important part has been completely left out — that is, the key complaint about India’s nuclear liability law is that it is inconsistent with international standards.

    In particular, I’m talking about the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (often referred to as the “CSC”). The exact words of international agreement can be found on the IAEA’s website:

    http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Conventions/supcomp.html

    India signed the CSC almost a year ago. Part of the agreement is that liability is channeled exclusively to the operator of a nuclear installation, leaving the suppliers indemnified. Why should that be?

    Well, the agreement also requires the operator to take out insurance, and it requires the state to ensure the payment of claims for compensation, thereby encouraging national governments to work with the operators to create an insurance pool (think Price-Anderson). Finally, the agreement creates a multinational supplementary compensation fund, into which all participating members pay. This provides a third layer of protection to cover liability.

    So although the operator is solely liable in case of an accident, it is first able to rely on the individual insurance that it is required to carry. If that is insufficient, it can pull from the national insurance pool that is encouraged by the CSC. Finally, it can pull from the international fund.

    After having access to these two additional sources of money, it hardly seems fair that the operator should then be able to sue suppliers to get yet a third stream of compensation. It is this type of “triple dipping” that the CSC prohibits, yet this is exactly the type of thing that India’s nuclear liability law is trying to allow.

    “Harsh” is not the word that I would use. I’d say it’s unfair, especially since the Indian government is going to be the sole operator of its nuclear plants for some time to come. If the Indian government is looking out for the operator, then it’s looking out for itself.

    “The WNA forecasts show France losing 8 reactors over the next couple of decades — which suggests they won t be replacing them when they are closed for decommissioning.”

    Well, France will obviously close its oldest reactors first, which are from the 900 MWe class. One new EPR (1650 MWe) is worth about two of these smaller reactors. Furthermore, France’s recent efforts to implement modern enrichment technology has now “freed up” several reactors that were used pretty much exclusively to run the enrichment plant that used the older, less-efficient technology.

    It’s not as bad as you’re trying to make out.

    “Apart from the project at Flamanville (over budget and delayed), there has been no talk of further reactors in France that I m aware of.”

    No, plans for Penly 3 are still ongoing. Less than two weeks ago, the French energy ministry announced, once again, that the project has not been suspended.

  6. David Walters  on October 17th, 2011

    Stephanie…what must be parsed vis-a-vis are the *reasons* for the slightly lower 2020 numbers. And none of it, repeat none of it, has a thing to do with Fukushima. Speaking “China” and “Fukushima” in the same breadth is an error.

    Chinese have good reasons to “pull back” a smidge from their previous “86 MWs”…which, BTW…is STILL the official goal of the state planning board(s). They don’t know fully the component contraints from their booming nuclear development; their reliance, for now, on international manufacturing; and, of course, the training issue for their workers at every level.

    The Chinese tend to rely heavily on On the Job Training. They’re known, in their coal and gas plants, to “triple shift” their workers, mainly operators, to learn the work. They are increasing their tracking of smart math and science students into their national nuclear engineering curriculum. But if it’s not enough, if the quality is not high, they should slow down. That’s a “good thing”, not a bad thing, IMO.

    Secondly, they’ve reached their limit on coal. They have little choice now but to move ahead with nuclear in this vast expansion. Over 50% of their rail transport is tied up with coal. One snow storm and south China goes black.

    Thirdly, on Vietnam. Having done a little consulting for them I know they are moving ahead steadily with Russian help (among others: China, S. Korea, etc) in setting up their regulatory regime. Oddly, one opponent of this plan is the former General Giap, hero of their war against the US occupation of their country. He sits in their national assembly and opposes the development of the massive bauxite ore plans the gov’t wants to develop: mining, transport, smelting, etc. This is where nuclear fits in. But all indications are that *nothing* is slowing them down, least of all Fukushima.

    Latly, S. Korea. Almost universally ignored except for the sale to the UAE of 4, possibly 8, APR1400s. What’s ingored? Their own massive development of new nuclear. they want to move from the current 45% nuclear capacity of their grid (with about 30% of the *installed* capacity!) to around 54% or higher. They are really quite interesting when you talk to the state industry folks. They really see “zero import” of energy within 40 years or so. They want to eliminate all fossil imports for generation in 20 years. This means one thing: nuclear. They are big importers of LNG and coal and don’t want to do that anymore. They have oodles of nukes under construction or planned but all approved. Again, they paused, thank goodness, after Fukushima, examined their sea-side plants for possible tsunami damage, and go on their merry way.

  7. Joel Riddle  on October 18th, 2011

    Stephanie, regarding your following statements:

    “In some respects it is true that the response has been quieter compared to the situation after Chernobyl (space limitations precluded a more lengthy discussion about this in the original article). The extent to which this may be true indicates to me that the world is more ready than it was then to accept the consequences of nuclear catastrophe in exchange for electricity, or that most people are simply unaware of what the Japanese are confronted with, or that people don’t think they can do anything much their sources of electricity generation — it’s probably a combination of all three.”

    I would venture to say that a more likely biggest reason for the difference, is that most people are able to recognize the difference between Fukushima and Chernobyl and can recognize that being overly worried about risks from nuclear power is a waste of time for almost anyone outside of those working directly to ensure nuclear safety either in operating, designing, or constructing atomic power facilities.

  8. Jean Demesure  on October 19th, 2011

    I’m French and 80% of my electricity is nuclear. I see here nothing of the bleak nuclear future as envisionned by Stephanie and I doubt that the French nuclear state industry, who has for years financed and capitalized on the global warming scare to push its agenda would let it “decline” (one EPR is being built, another has been approved).

    But maybe Stephanie’s vision is stronger than my reality, who knows…

  9. Stephanie Cooke  on October 20th, 2011

    David,

    Not knowing the source of your assertions I’m really at a loss to comment. But as far as we understand it at NIW, the 86 GW was never made an official goal to begin with although prior to Fukushima the Chinese were said to be moving towards that goal. Now as I said our understanding is that the goal is being rather significantly scaled back. I don’t think you can say that South Korea’s nuclear program has been ignored. But again I don’t know who your sources are there. Our oil and gas exports have heard nothing about giving up on LNG.

  10. Stephanie Cooke  on October 20th, 2011

    There is an argument that the French have become overly dependent on nuclear and that as a result don’t have the flexibility they need to manage the grid efficiently. In any case when I talked about downsizing of their program I was basing it on World Nuclear Association forecasts for France.


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