In an industrial facility, the key-concept is reliability. It is all the more true in utilities such as electric power companies, since one must be able to trust the electricity provider 24/7, year in, year out. It is even crucial when it comes to nuclear power production, where one should expect high sustainability and total safety. In this industry, rigorous mastering of the production tool is thus a necessary condition for the technical and economic performance. The heart of this industrial model is engineering.
Rising energy consumption round the world, rarefaction of fossil energy sources, climate change, the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions… The development of new and renewable energy sectors, emitting few or zero GHGs has become primordial. Faced with this inevitable energy transition phase, nuclear fusion could be justified, provided we can prove its feasibility, thereby enabling a move to industrial fusion power production. This is the challenge assigned to the ITER international research facility.
Achieving an energy transition is obviously necessary in the long run, but the situation is much more confusing in the short and mid-term perspectives. Between technological breakthroughs and geopolitical changes, evolutions are difficult to predict. The energy transition has begun and will continue. But if we wish to draw up an overall picture, it is the ambiguities and uncertainties that prevail.
The energy mix can be defined as the distribution of primary energy sources consumed to produce various types of energy used in a given country. For different reasons, running from availability of the resources to policies enacted in the fight against global warming, national energy mixes will necessarily evolve over the coming decades. However, the natural inertia of history and the political and economic costs make the changes difficult. What are the most promising routes to transition?
The electricity transmission network is the backbone of the electrical system, a key asset in the energy transition. It must both adapt to new means of production and meet changing consumption needs. Today, the rise of renewable electricity and solidarity between territories are the main drivers of the evolution of this electricity network. The stakes are high.
Small modular reactors are seen as presenting a possible route to future nuclear power production, especially in developing countries. Some manufacturers even started to design subsea power stations. In terms of advantages, costs and risk management, it's a completely new equation.
In 2011 Germany decided to abandon nuclear power and switch to renewable energy. Two years later, lessons have been learned: financial cost, industrial implications, social acceptability, political tensions shape a new landscape. Who is paying what, and for whom? What is the environment iompact of the new policy? How to manage such a turn?
Generation IV reactors raise many hopes and expectations, in terms of optimised use of resources, reduced wastes, better safety factors. They are still on the drawing-board today, but may replace, somewhere in the future, Generation III reactors (the EPRs) considered as more efficient than today’s PWRs (pressurised water). Physicist Dr Daniel Heuer is currently studying one of the 6 concepts pre-selected in 2008 by the yearly Generation IV International Forum (that set the priority orientations), viz., the concept of molten salt reactors (MSRs) associated with the thorium cycle. What exactly are the advantages of this new technology? Will MSRs earn their place in nuclear power production?
One year after Fukushima, several European countries have decided to gradually abandon nuclear energy. What are the prospects for this sector? Two executives from world's number 1 group share their views on the new directions taken by a market unlike any other. Increasing safety requirements, predictable upmarket rise of Asian constructors, the dynamism of the small reactor segment and the slow ripening of the third gen reactors: all of these factors draw a new map of this industry.
The European energy equation is defined by three constraints: security of supply, fighting against climate change, competitiveness. It is complicated with the German choice on nuclear power, the arrival of shale gas, the rise of renewable energy, the impact of large emerging countries on the energy markets. What does it change for Europe and its industrial heavyweights?
The Fukushima has brought nuclear safety front-stage again. This catastrophe has already enabled us to pin-point several specific weak points, e.g., system complexity and non-collaboration (independence) of the Japanese institutions concerned. But elsewhere in the world, questions are still being raised and the prospect of setting up an international authority in this field is remote.
In February 2011, the European Council made a commitment to complete the internal energy market by 2014. This long process started in the early 1990s; till now, results have been somewhat mixed. New challenges have entered the equation: the need for increasing the share of renewables and the necessity to ensure secure supplies. This increased complexity has made a revision of current policies a priority: though liberalization remains the main rationale behind the EU policy, recent institutional changes suggest a move towards a more balanced policy.
The global electricity sector is facing three major challenges: the security of supply to keep up with ever-mounting demand, the fight against climate change, and the global trend toward massive urbanization. Electricity will play a key role through low-emitting energy-generation technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These technologies already exist. Success will depend on how public policies are used to encourage innovation.
Nuclear power’s future in Japan and abroad: the Fukushima accident in social and political perspective
The 11 March 2011 triple-disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan has devastated the Tohoku region but also altered the regulatory and market environment for atomic energy around the world. This article looks at the new situation in Japan for local residents and political elites along with the post-Fukushima changes in energy policies for Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. Japan and the world stand at a crossroads where decision makers and citizens must publicly evaluate the costs and benefits of pursuing nuclear power.
Nuclear energy is once more on the defensive, thanks to Fukushima. But day to day, fossil fuels are far riskier in the toll they take on people, not to mention their effect on global warming. And some renewables like ethanol and hydropower carry their own substantial, if underrated, risks. If Germany's move to shut down its nuclear plants turns out to be the start of a trend, what does it mean for our safety?
All nuclear countries are faced with the thorny question of how to handle waste. France has made the decision to bury the most radioactive waste 500 meters underground in a 150 million year old layer of clay 130 meters thick, at Bure in the heart of the Lorraine countryside. According to the timeline, a law will be passed in 2016 to authorize construction. Marie-Claude Dupuis, CEO of Andra (French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency) and Chairperson of the Radioactive Waste Management Committee of the OECD discusses the project.
Clean, efficient, cheap - in many respects, nuclear energy looks like a nearly perfect way to generate electricity. Yet perhaps no other mode of power is as feared. One major reason is the question of how to dispose of nuclear waste - a concern reawakened by the crippling of the nuclear plant at Fukushima, Japan. More than 56 years have passed since the first nuclear plant for civilian power generation went online, but there is still no consensus on the best way to dispose of dangerous waste. (Second in a series on the future of nuclear power)
Nearly 25 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, the public perception of the safety of nuclear power had finally begun to recover even in such risk-averse markets as the United States. Now a tsunami in northern Japan has washed away that new confidence. Will the disaster at Fukushima set nuclear power back yet again? And will nuclear power ever be safe enough to suit an anxious public? (First in a series on the future of nuclear power.)
It could turn out to be one of the major industrial leaps forward of the 21st century. Without question, fears surrounding global warming have compelled the major economies to view nuclear power as perhaps the best solution for lessening our carbon footprint, reducing dependence on oil and ultimately slashing the cost of electricity.
The pre-crisis trends on energy security of supply were worrying as consumption of oil, gas and electricity was growing and worldwide energy resources were limited. The investments in aging energy infrastructures needed to meet this demand were insufficient in volume and slow. This led to tense situations in the supply and demand balance with power cuts and even blackouts hitting some European countries. In addition, the majority of the new or planned electricity generation plants were fossil fuel fired, notably gas fueled, increasing gas supply dependency on Russia and generating CO2 emissions. The economic and financial crisis of the past 18 months modified the supply and demand balance in Europe. Demand has dropped bringing short-term relief, but investments in energy infrastructures have also decreased, which is worrying for the longer term.