Category Archives: Energy

Airship’s return can boost hydrogen economy

For a sustainable world, aim high and try some abandoned technology: the airship. It could be the latest, coolest way to deliver the hydrogen economy.

LONDON, 7 August, 2019 − The airship could be on the way back. Tomorrow’s fuel could be delivered at all-but zero carbon cost by the ultimate in high-technology supertankers: vast dirigibles, sailing round the world at stratospheric heights on the jet stream.

Enormous balloons or airships more than two kilometres in length, laden with hydrogen and an additional burden of cargo could, according to new calculations, circumnavigate the northern hemisphere in 16 days. They could, on route, deliver their heavy goods, and at the same time transfer 60% or even 80% of their hydrogen in gas form.

And then, the holds empty, the same airship could float back home in the same direction on the jet stream with the remaining hydrogen to provide the necessary lift, for another trip.

Transport accounts for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by humankind: marine cargo delivery accounts for at least 3% and is projected to grow.

“Cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately promote sustainable development on a global scale”

But as city authorities and inventive motor engineers and laboratory ingenuity around the world have already demonstrated, hydrogen can serve as a combustion fuel. And as solar and windpower investors have already found, surplus renewable energy can be stored as hydrogen, if the unwanted power is used to apply electrolysis to water. And that could be a cue for the return of the airship.

Dirigible development more or less ceased in 1937, when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in New Jersey: hydrogen is highly flammable. But a new study of the possibilities of lighter-than-air machines in the journal Energy Conversion and Management: X suggests that safety is now less of a problem.

With advances in computing and communications in the last eight decades, and vastly more accurate weather observation systems, such ships could be fuelled, flown, guided, landed and emptied entirely by robotic control. In effect, the hydrogen would provide the lift, the permanent stratospheric winds would provide the propulsion; in emergency the cargo would also provide the additional fuel.

Julian Hunt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and colleagues did the sums.

Big is beautiful

The Hindenburg class airship was 245 metres in length. Tomorrow’s hydrogen bulk carriers could be ten times that. Big here is beautiful: a tenfold increase in length would yield a thousandfold increase in volume at the cost of only a hundredfold of the fabric in which the hydrogen is enclosed.

One of those 2.4km giants could be loaded with 3,280 tonnes of hydrogen, lift it to 15km, and glide with the jet stream on a one-way route around the hemisphere. Assuming such a behemoth could make 25 deliveries a year, a fleet of 1,125 lighter-than-air supertankers could deliver enough energy stored in the form of hydrogen to account for a tenth of the global electricity consumption.

The combination of vast bulk carrier (the same cargo could also be transported in a monster balloon, the scientists argue) and a free ride at high altitude carries additional possibilities, they say. Hydrogen to be liquefied must reach a temperature of minus 253°C. Temperatures in the stratosphere can get as low as minus 70°C: altitude makes the process more economical because the fuel would already be at minus 60°C when it landed.

Hydrogen can also be used as fuel for landing and lift-off and course changes, but a big enough airship could also carry solar arrays to exploit the available sunlight. Hydrogen when burned to produce power also delivers nine times its weight as water: sprays of water at high altitude could be used to trigger the complex process that ends in rainfall over drought-stricken farmlands.

Slow but sure

But the researchers see the real bonus simply as a delivery system for hydrogen without the need to liquefy it (a process that consumes about 30% of the available energy of the hydrogen). Delivery might be slow compared to air freight, and always be in the direction west-to-east, but it would outpace most marine shipping – and a dirigible could load at, and deliver directly to, regions far from the coast: from Denver in the US to Islamabad in Pakistan, the researchers instance.

There are problems to overcome: wind and storm stresses could create real problems for structures of such size. Descent and landing could be problematic. But lighter-than-air travel comes with its own economies. Dirigibles are already being revived for a number of commercial uses.

And that’s not all a really vast airship could offer: a dirigible could deliver supplies to space, to be fired into the emptiness by pressure gun. Or a doughnut-shaped airship in the stratosphere could support a spaceship at its centre of gravity, to become the launch pad for its final lift-off.

Above all, the authors say, “cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately support the widespread adoption of intermittent renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, and promote sustainable development on a global scale.” − Climate News Network

For a sustainable world, aim high and try some abandoned technology: the airship. It could be the latest, coolest way to deliver the hydrogen economy.

LONDON, 7 August, 2019 − The airship could be on the way back. Tomorrow’s fuel could be delivered at all-but zero carbon cost by the ultimate in high-technology supertankers: vast dirigibles, sailing round the world at stratospheric heights on the jet stream.

Enormous balloons or airships more than two kilometres in length, laden with hydrogen and an additional burden of cargo could, according to new calculations, circumnavigate the northern hemisphere in 16 days. They could, on route, deliver their heavy goods, and at the same time transfer 60% or even 80% of their hydrogen in gas form.

And then, the holds empty, the same airship could float back home in the same direction on the jet stream with the remaining hydrogen to provide the necessary lift, for another trip.

Transport accounts for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by humankind: marine cargo delivery accounts for at least 3% and is projected to grow.

“Cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately promote sustainable development on a global scale”

But as city authorities and inventive motor engineers and laboratory ingenuity around the world have already demonstrated, hydrogen can serve as a combustion fuel. And as solar and windpower investors have already found, surplus renewable energy can be stored as hydrogen, if the unwanted power is used to apply electrolysis to water. And that could be a cue for the return of the airship.

Dirigible development more or less ceased in 1937, when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in New Jersey: hydrogen is highly flammable. But a new study of the possibilities of lighter-than-air machines in the journal Energy Conversion and Management: X suggests that safety is now less of a problem.

With advances in computing and communications in the last eight decades, and vastly more accurate weather observation systems, such ships could be fuelled, flown, guided, landed and emptied entirely by robotic control. In effect, the hydrogen would provide the lift, the permanent stratospheric winds would provide the propulsion; in emergency the cargo would also provide the additional fuel.

Julian Hunt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and colleagues did the sums.

Big is beautiful

The Hindenburg class airship was 245 metres in length. Tomorrow’s hydrogen bulk carriers could be ten times that. Big here is beautiful: a tenfold increase in length would yield a thousandfold increase in volume at the cost of only a hundredfold of the fabric in which the hydrogen is enclosed.

One of those 2.4km giants could be loaded with 3,280 tonnes of hydrogen, lift it to 15km, and glide with the jet stream on a one-way route around the hemisphere. Assuming such a behemoth could make 25 deliveries a year, a fleet of 1,125 lighter-than-air supertankers could deliver enough energy stored in the form of hydrogen to account for a tenth of the global electricity consumption.

The combination of vast bulk carrier (the same cargo could also be transported in a monster balloon, the scientists argue) and a free ride at high altitude carries additional possibilities, they say. Hydrogen to be liquefied must reach a temperature of minus 253°C. Temperatures in the stratosphere can get as low as minus 70°C: altitude makes the process more economical because the fuel would already be at minus 60°C when it landed.

Hydrogen can also be used as fuel for landing and lift-off and course changes, but a big enough airship could also carry solar arrays to exploit the available sunlight. Hydrogen when burned to produce power also delivers nine times its weight as water: sprays of water at high altitude could be used to trigger the complex process that ends in rainfall over drought-stricken farmlands.

Slow but sure

But the researchers see the real bonus simply as a delivery system for hydrogen without the need to liquefy it (a process that consumes about 30% of the available energy of the hydrogen). Delivery might be slow compared to air freight, and always be in the direction west-to-east, but it would outpace most marine shipping – and a dirigible could load at, and deliver directly to, regions far from the coast: from Denver in the US to Islamabad in Pakistan, the researchers instance.

There are problems to overcome: wind and storm stresses could create real problems for structures of such size. Descent and landing could be problematic. But lighter-than-air travel comes with its own economies. Dirigibles are already being revived for a number of commercial uses.

And that’s not all a really vast airship could offer: a dirigible could deliver supplies to space, to be fired into the emptiness by pressure gun. Or a doughnut-shaped airship in the stratosphere could support a spaceship at its centre of gravity, to become the launch pad for its final lift-off.

Above all, the authors say, “cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately support the widespread adoption of intermittent renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, and promote sustainable development on a global scale.” − Climate News Network

Nuclear power somehow always makes a loss

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network

New premier plans new UK nuclear tax

Financing nuclear power stations is proving impossible for business, so Boris Johnson plans a new UK nuclear tax for all to pay.

LONDON, 29 July, 2019 − All electricity consumers in Britain will pay a new UK nuclear tax, a levy on their bills to finance the construction of nuclear power plants under a scheme announced by the UK government.

Called a Regulated Asset Base (RAB), but in reality a nuclear tax levied on electricity bills, the charge has no limits, so consumers will go on paying for any cost over-runs and delays, however long it takes to build a nuclear power station.

The plan, launched by the UK Department for Business, is also to finance the as yet unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage.

In both cases the consumer would be asked to pay for all the risks while the large nuclear companies got cheap finance for their projects.  Under the government’s proposal, the taxpayer would also foot the bill if the schemes were ultimately scrapped.

The nuclear industry, particularly EDF, the French government-owned utility, is delighted by the idea, because its power stations are so costly it can no longer afford to finance them itself. Getting the consumer to pay the costs up front will save billions of pounds in interest charges, and so the theory is that when the power station is finally up and running the electricity produced will be less expensive.

“The idea of paying extra for the privilege of major disruption and the threat of environmental damage to protected sites really sticks in our throats”

Many campaigners are appalled at the idea, partly because renewables like solar and onshore wind are less than half the price of new nuclear. They can see no need to force consumers to spend huge sums on a technology that many countries in Europe have already abandoned, among them Germany, Spain and Italy.

Initially they calculate that £6 a year would be added to every electricity bill to pay for nuclear energy, even if consumers were already committed to buying only from renewable sources.

Part of the problem with nuclear reactors is the uncertainty that surrounds them, because construction takes so long. The average delay of EDF’s current reactor projects in France and Finland is 10 years − and neither is yet operating.

So much concrete is poured for a new nuclear station that it adds to climate change before construction is complete. By the time any reactors financed by this scheme are up and running, the battle to avoid the atmosphere overheating could well be lost, according to scientists .

Successful try-out

The idea of charging consumers to pay the capital cost of large public schemes like sewage works as they are constructed has been tried successfully in the UK on the Thames Tideway Scheme in London, which is costing £4.2 billion ($5.25bn). The money from consumers was used as the scheme progressed, keeping down the overall cost because huge loans are not required, but the scheme has its critics because the profits went to shareholders of the water company.

The government’s view, represented by the business and energy secretary Greg Clark, in a comment made the day before he was sacked by the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was that it was essential to find a way of financing big projects so that Britain could transform its energy sector to avoid climate change. His successor, Andrea Leadsom, another nuclear enthusiast, is likely to take the same view.

Both carbon capture and storage and nuclear needed to be developed, Mr Clark said, and ultimately this way of raising finance as a levy from the consumer would cut the cost of raising the necessary capital and would bring costs down.

However, the size and scale of the Sizewell C nuclear power station project in Suffolk on England’s east coast, which would be the first to benefit from the UK government’s new scheme, is far larger than any other RAB scheme, costing at least £16 billion ($19.9bn). It is also longer-term and more risky than anything tried before.

A similar idea was tried in the US – getting consumers to pay up front for two nuclear power reactors in South Carolina – but it was abandoned when $9bn had already been spent.

Nothing to show

The cancellation of these two new reactors became inevitable when Westinghouse, which designed the reactors, filed for bankruptcy. The consumers got no electricity for their money.

It was the local opponents to the proposed Sizewell C power station who calculated that the RAB idea would add around £6 a year to customer bills across the UK, including those on renewable energy contracts.

Alison Downes, co-chair of a local action group, said: “Most of EDF’s EPR (third generation pressurised water reactor) projects have over-run and over-spent, so there is a high risk of even more costs being passed on to householders and taxpayers.

“Having campaigned for many years to get EDF to change its construction plans for Sizewell C, the idea of paying extra for the privilege of major disruption and the threat of environmental damage to protected sites really sticks in our throats.” − Climate News Network

Financing nuclear power stations is proving impossible for business, so Boris Johnson plans a new UK nuclear tax for all to pay.

LONDON, 29 July, 2019 − All electricity consumers in Britain will pay a new UK nuclear tax, a levy on their bills to finance the construction of nuclear power plants under a scheme announced by the UK government.

Called a Regulated Asset Base (RAB), but in reality a nuclear tax levied on electricity bills, the charge has no limits, so consumers will go on paying for any cost over-runs and delays, however long it takes to build a nuclear power station.

The plan, launched by the UK Department for Business, is also to finance the as yet unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage.

In both cases the consumer would be asked to pay for all the risks while the large nuclear companies got cheap finance for their projects.  Under the government’s proposal, the taxpayer would also foot the bill if the schemes were ultimately scrapped.

The nuclear industry, particularly EDF, the French government-owned utility, is delighted by the idea, because its power stations are so costly it can no longer afford to finance them itself. Getting the consumer to pay the costs up front will save billions of pounds in interest charges, and so the theory is that when the power station is finally up and running the electricity produced will be less expensive.

“The idea of paying extra for the privilege of major disruption and the threat of environmental damage to protected sites really sticks in our throats”

Many campaigners are appalled at the idea, partly because renewables like solar and onshore wind are less than half the price of new nuclear. They can see no need to force consumers to spend huge sums on a technology that many countries in Europe have already abandoned, among them Germany, Spain and Italy.

Initially they calculate that £6 a year would be added to every electricity bill to pay for nuclear energy, even if consumers were already committed to buying only from renewable sources.

Part of the problem with nuclear reactors is the uncertainty that surrounds them, because construction takes so long. The average delay of EDF’s current reactor projects in France and Finland is 10 years − and neither is yet operating.

So much concrete is poured for a new nuclear station that it adds to climate change before construction is complete. By the time any reactors financed by this scheme are up and running, the battle to avoid the atmosphere overheating could well be lost, according to scientists .

Successful try-out

The idea of charging consumers to pay the capital cost of large public schemes like sewage works as they are constructed has been tried successfully in the UK on the Thames Tideway Scheme in London, which is costing £4.2 billion ($5.25bn). The money from consumers was used as the scheme progressed, keeping down the overall cost because huge loans are not required, but the scheme has its critics because the profits went to shareholders of the water company.

The government’s view, represented by the business and energy secretary Greg Clark, in a comment made the day before he was sacked by the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was that it was essential to find a way of financing big projects so that Britain could transform its energy sector to avoid climate change. His successor, Andrea Leadsom, another nuclear enthusiast, is likely to take the same view.

Both carbon capture and storage and nuclear needed to be developed, Mr Clark said, and ultimately this way of raising finance as a levy from the consumer would cut the cost of raising the necessary capital and would bring costs down.

However, the size and scale of the Sizewell C nuclear power station project in Suffolk on England’s east coast, which would be the first to benefit from the UK government’s new scheme, is far larger than any other RAB scheme, costing at least £16 billion ($19.9bn). It is also longer-term and more risky than anything tried before.

A similar idea was tried in the US – getting consumers to pay up front for two nuclear power reactors in South Carolina – but it was abandoned when $9bn had already been spent.

Nothing to show

The cancellation of these two new reactors became inevitable when Westinghouse, which designed the reactors, filed for bankruptcy. The consumers got no electricity for their money.

It was the local opponents to the proposed Sizewell C power station who calculated that the RAB idea would add around £6 a year to customer bills across the UK, including those on renewable energy contracts.

Alison Downes, co-chair of a local action group, said: “Most of EDF’s EPR (third generation pressurised water reactor) projects have over-run and over-spent, so there is a high risk of even more costs being passed on to householders and taxpayers.

“Having campaigned for many years to get EDF to change its construction plans for Sizewell C, the idea of paying extra for the privilege of major disruption and the threat of environmental damage to protected sites really sticks in our throats.” − Climate News Network

Nuclear Baltic: An open and shut case

One atomic power station heads gradually towards closure, another prepares to open. Northern Europe may yet see a revived nuclear Baltic.

VILNIUS, 24 July, 2019 – The arguments just won’t go away. And while they persist, a nuclear Baltic looks likely to continue in Europe.

Its backers say nuclear power is vital in order to meet the world’s growing energy requirements; they also say it’s a clean fuel, able to meet the challenge of climate change and an ideal substitute for fossil fuels.

Others disagree; critics say that despite various technological improvements over the years, nuclear power is still unsafe. The issue of disposing of mountains of nuclear waste – which can remain active and dangerous for thousands of years – has not been resolved.

The 2.8 million people of the small Baltic republic of Lithuania are keenly aware of these different points of view. In former times, when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, what was one of the most powerful nuclear plants in the world was built at Ignalina, in the east of the country.

As part of a 2004 agreement to join the European Union (EU), Lithuania agreed to close Ignalina. Brussels said the facility was unsafe: its construction and design is similar to that of the ill-fated nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, with no proper containment shell to capture any escape of radioactivity.

“Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to”

Billions of euros are now being spent decommissioning Ignalina; spokespeople at the plant told Climate News Network it will take the 2,000 workers still at the site 18 more years to complete the work.

While Ignalina is being dismantled, another nuclear power facility is coming on stream across the border in Belarus – less than 50 kilometres from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.

The 2,400 MW plant at Ostrovets, in north-west Belarus, has been built mainly by ROSATOM, the Russian state-owned nuclear and energy company. Throughout its design and construction phases, Lithuania has raised strong objections to the Ostrovets facility.

Belarus and the Baltic states, including Lithuania, were among the territories most severely affected by radioactive fallout from the explosion at Chernobyl. Vilnius says ROSATOM and others involved in the construction at Ostrovets are not properly addressing safety issues.

Lithuania says it hasn’t been consulted on the environmental impact of the project. It also says that numerous accidents during construction work at the plant – reported to include a crane operator dropping and damaging a nuclear pressure vessel – indicate that building work has been rushed and not properly supervised.

Secrecy claim

Vilnius says that – as was the case at Chernobyl – any problems at the Belarus plant are hushed up and never disclosed.

Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to.

They point to a report last year by EU inspectors which gave a generally positive assessment of the project, though the EU said its findings were mainly concerned with seismic activity at the site and did not cover overall safety.

Russia has advanced a $10 billion loan to Belarus to cover the construction of the Ostrovets facility.

Critics of the plant say its cost is unlikely to be recouped. Belarus has limited use for the large amount of power Ostrovets will produce when it comes fully on stream. Lithuania and other neighbouring EU states are unlikely to import power from the controversial project. – Climate News Network

One atomic power station heads gradually towards closure, another prepares to open. Northern Europe may yet see a revived nuclear Baltic.

VILNIUS, 24 July, 2019 – The arguments just won’t go away. And while they persist, a nuclear Baltic looks likely to continue in Europe.

Its backers say nuclear power is vital in order to meet the world’s growing energy requirements; they also say it’s a clean fuel, able to meet the challenge of climate change and an ideal substitute for fossil fuels.

Others disagree; critics say that despite various technological improvements over the years, nuclear power is still unsafe. The issue of disposing of mountains of nuclear waste – which can remain active and dangerous for thousands of years – has not been resolved.

The 2.8 million people of the small Baltic republic of Lithuania are keenly aware of these different points of view. In former times, when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, what was one of the most powerful nuclear plants in the world was built at Ignalina, in the east of the country.

As part of a 2004 agreement to join the European Union (EU), Lithuania agreed to close Ignalina. Brussels said the facility was unsafe: its construction and design is similar to that of the ill-fated nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, with no proper containment shell to capture any escape of radioactivity.

“Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to”

Billions of euros are now being spent decommissioning Ignalina; spokespeople at the plant told Climate News Network it will take the 2,000 workers still at the site 18 more years to complete the work.

While Ignalina is being dismantled, another nuclear power facility is coming on stream across the border in Belarus – less than 50 kilometres from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.

The 2,400 MW plant at Ostrovets, in north-west Belarus, has been built mainly by ROSATOM, the Russian state-owned nuclear and energy company. Throughout its design and construction phases, Lithuania has raised strong objections to the Ostrovets facility.

Belarus and the Baltic states, including Lithuania, were among the territories most severely affected by radioactive fallout from the explosion at Chernobyl. Vilnius says ROSATOM and others involved in the construction at Ostrovets are not properly addressing safety issues.

Lithuania says it hasn’t been consulted on the environmental impact of the project. It also says that numerous accidents during construction work at the plant – reported to include a crane operator dropping and damaging a nuclear pressure vessel – indicate that building work has been rushed and not properly supervised.

Secrecy claim

Vilnius says that – as was the case at Chernobyl – any problems at the Belarus plant are hushed up and never disclosed.

Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to.

They point to a report last year by EU inspectors which gave a generally positive assessment of the project, though the EU said its findings were mainly concerned with seismic activity at the site and did not cover overall safety.

Russia has advanced a $10 billion loan to Belarus to cover the construction of the Ostrovets facility.

Critics of the plant say its cost is unlikely to be recouped. Belarus has limited use for the large amount of power Ostrovets will produce when it comes fully on stream. Lithuania and other neighbouring EU states are unlikely to import power from the controversial project. – Climate News Network

Science can double the solar dividend

Researchers have found three new ways to double the solar dividend, making the sun work harder and deliver more to the renewable economy.

LONDON, 22 July, 2019 − A new, translucent material made of little more than silica and air can double the solar dividend, collecting solar heat and raising temperatures to 200°C, delivering new ways to heat homes or power industrial processes.

And other researchers in the same US city believe they may be on track to deliver much more electricity from solar cells. They have found a way to make a single photon of light dislodge not one electron but two.

A third team in Saudi Arabia has now shown that their solar arrays can not only generate electric power: they can also turn sea water into fresh drinking water at the same time.

All three technologies are at the laboratory stage. All three are a long way from commercial exploitation on any scale. But all three are also demonstrations of the extraordinary ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories as scientists look for new ways to tackle the energy challenge of a zero carbon world, and deliver more power without raising planetary temperatures to hazardous levels.

Researchers have been working on ways to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel, to warm and light homes with transparent wood, to generate power from footsteps and to harvest electrical energy from evaporation.

Solar spurt

All three of the latest twists exploit sunlight in different ways, and use new materials to step up levels of efficiency.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano that they have developed an insulating material that is 95% translucent.

An aerogel is a foam made with silica and held together not with water but with air. These remarkable fabrics have been around for decades – the US space agency Nasa has been experimenting with them – and although these improbable structures have incomparable insulating properties, they have until now had limited transparency.

The researchers have developed a version so lightweight and so clear that it is all but invisible. Light gets through and generates heat – but the heat cannot escape, and builds up in a passive solar collector system made of dark, light-absorbing material. A test device on the roof of the MIT buildings during a freezing Massachusetts winter managed to raise temperatures of 220°C.

Rulebreaker

Other scientists at the same institution report in the journal Nature that their new fully operational solar cell seems to break one of the rules of physics: until now, any conventional silicon-based solar cell has been limited by simple arithmetic. It takes one photon of light to dislodge one electron and set up a current.

Because of this, the maximum theoretical efficiency of a solar cell is 29.1%. But a specialist team at MIT have been experimenting with a new class of materials called excitons, fabrics that exist in an excited state, and permit packets of energy to propagate, combine or divide.

And in the latest experiments, the exitonic material coating, only 10 billionths of a metre in thickness, of a silicon cell absorbs a photon of light, to form an exciton which then divides into two more.

The research breakthrough sounds simple, but has kept the MIT scientists busy for years before they found a way to transfer the extra energy into the silicon solar cell, and set two electrons in movement from one packet of sunlight.

“This strategy … has the potential to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer”

So, in theory, the new turbocharged surface could take the maximum efficiency of a solar cell to beyond 35%. In practice, commercial application could be years away.

But a team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia has coupled photovoltaic cells with advanced membrane technology to solve two problems at once.

Power generation is a water-greedy process: in Europe and the US half of all water use is in the service of energy production. Desalination – the act of distilling fresh water from brine – is a power-hungry operation. In Arab nations, more than 15% of total national electricity is consumed by the fresh water industry.

The Saudi-based team report in Nature Communications that they have managed to combine two solar-driven technologies in one operation.

Exploiting the heat

They designed a three-stage membrane distillation unit mounted on the back of a photovoltaic panel so that the heat normally dissipated by the panel is used to evaporate water. The device has all the efficiency of a commercial solar cell, but makes clean water at a higher rate than most existing devices. The trick is to exploit the heat normally wasted in photovoltaic power generation to drive an energy-demanding way of boosting fresh water supply.

By 2025, the researchers say, the world will be generating 969 Gigawatts from photovoltaic cells spread across 4 billion square metres of land. They assume there will be 200 days each year with suitable levels of sunlight. They make what they call a conservative assumption that their new arrays could deliver fresh water from brackish, waste or sea water at the rate of 5 kilograms per square metre per day.

In places where water supplies are not a problem, the surplus water could be used to wash dust from the solar arrays, or irrigate crops. Were all of these solar arrays fitted with the new membrane backing, they could also produce 4 billion cubic metres of fresh water a day. That is 10% of the total drinking water swallowed in 2017.

This strategy, say the scientists, has the potential “to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer.” Climate News Network

Researchers have found three new ways to double the solar dividend, making the sun work harder and deliver more to the renewable economy.

LONDON, 22 July, 2019 − A new, translucent material made of little more than silica and air can double the solar dividend, collecting solar heat and raising temperatures to 200°C, delivering new ways to heat homes or power industrial processes.

And other researchers in the same US city believe they may be on track to deliver much more electricity from solar cells. They have found a way to make a single photon of light dislodge not one electron but two.

A third team in Saudi Arabia has now shown that their solar arrays can not only generate electric power: they can also turn sea water into fresh drinking water at the same time.

All three technologies are at the laboratory stage. All three are a long way from commercial exploitation on any scale. But all three are also demonstrations of the extraordinary ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories as scientists look for new ways to tackle the energy challenge of a zero carbon world, and deliver more power without raising planetary temperatures to hazardous levels.

Researchers have been working on ways to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel, to warm and light homes with transparent wood, to generate power from footsteps and to harvest electrical energy from evaporation.

Solar spurt

All three of the latest twists exploit sunlight in different ways, and use new materials to step up levels of efficiency.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano that they have developed an insulating material that is 95% translucent.

An aerogel is a foam made with silica and held together not with water but with air. These remarkable fabrics have been around for decades – the US space agency Nasa has been experimenting with them – and although these improbable structures have incomparable insulating properties, they have until now had limited transparency.

The researchers have developed a version so lightweight and so clear that it is all but invisible. Light gets through and generates heat – but the heat cannot escape, and builds up in a passive solar collector system made of dark, light-absorbing material. A test device on the roof of the MIT buildings during a freezing Massachusetts winter managed to raise temperatures of 220°C.

Rulebreaker

Other scientists at the same institution report in the journal Nature that their new fully operational solar cell seems to break one of the rules of physics: until now, any conventional silicon-based solar cell has been limited by simple arithmetic. It takes one photon of light to dislodge one electron and set up a current.

Because of this, the maximum theoretical efficiency of a solar cell is 29.1%. But a specialist team at MIT have been experimenting with a new class of materials called excitons, fabrics that exist in an excited state, and permit packets of energy to propagate, combine or divide.

And in the latest experiments, the exitonic material coating, only 10 billionths of a metre in thickness, of a silicon cell absorbs a photon of light, to form an exciton which then divides into two more.

The research breakthrough sounds simple, but has kept the MIT scientists busy for years before they found a way to transfer the extra energy into the silicon solar cell, and set two electrons in movement from one packet of sunlight.

“This strategy … has the potential to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer”

So, in theory, the new turbocharged surface could take the maximum efficiency of a solar cell to beyond 35%. In practice, commercial application could be years away.

But a team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia has coupled photovoltaic cells with advanced membrane technology to solve two problems at once.

Power generation is a water-greedy process: in Europe and the US half of all water use is in the service of energy production. Desalination – the act of distilling fresh water from brine – is a power-hungry operation. In Arab nations, more than 15% of total national electricity is consumed by the fresh water industry.

The Saudi-based team report in Nature Communications that they have managed to combine two solar-driven technologies in one operation.

Exploiting the heat

They designed a three-stage membrane distillation unit mounted on the back of a photovoltaic panel so that the heat normally dissipated by the panel is used to evaporate water. The device has all the efficiency of a commercial solar cell, but makes clean water at a higher rate than most existing devices. The trick is to exploit the heat normally wasted in photovoltaic power generation to drive an energy-demanding way of boosting fresh water supply.

By 2025, the researchers say, the world will be generating 969 Gigawatts from photovoltaic cells spread across 4 billion square metres of land. They assume there will be 200 days each year with suitable levels of sunlight. They make what they call a conservative assumption that their new arrays could deliver fresh water from brackish, waste or sea water at the rate of 5 kilograms per square metre per day.

In places where water supplies are not a problem, the surplus water could be used to wash dust from the solar arrays, or irrigate crops. Were all of these solar arrays fitted with the new membrane backing, they could also produce 4 billion cubic metres of fresh water a day. That is 10% of the total drinking water swallowed in 2017.

This strategy, say the scientists, has the potential “to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer.” Climate News Network

Brazilians reject Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan

The prospect of more atomic energy for Brazil, envisaged under President Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan, fails to impress many of his compatriots.

SÃO PAULO, 6 July, 2019 − President Jair Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan is leaving many of his fellow Brazilians distinctly unenthusiastic at the prospect not of pollution alone but also of perceptible risk.

A few days ago a procession of men, women and children carrying banners and placards wound its way through the dry parched fields in the country’s semi-arid region in the north-east. It was a Sunday, and the crowd was led by the local bishop. But this was not one of the customary religious processions appealing for rain.

This time, the inhabitants of the small dusty town of Itacuruba were protesting against plans to install a nuclear plant on the banks of the river where they fish and draw their water.

The São Francisco river, which rises in the centre of Brazil and meanders its way 1,800 miles north and east to the Atlantic, is Brazil’s largest river flowing entirely within the country.

Over the years five dams and a scheme to divert and channel water to irrigate the region have severely reduced its volume.

“If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected”

Now the local population sees a new threat on the horizon: a nuclear reactor drawing water from the already diminished river, returning heated water that will kill the fish and bringing with it the risk of accidents and radiation.

So over 100 organisations have come together to form the Antinuclear Sertão (Semi-arid) movement, supported by the Catholic church, to challenge the planned reactor and denounce the risks it would bring.

The alarm was raised when the government’s proposed National Energy Plan 2050 was revealed. It includes plans for 8 new nuclear reactors, the first of them to be located in Itacuruba, and a £3 billion (R$14.4bn) contract to finish the Angra 3 reactor, begun over 30 years ago by Siemens KWU, but abandoned in 1986.

This is in spite of Brazil’s chequered history with nuclear power, and an abundant variety of renewable energy alternatives. Two pressurised water reactors (PWUs), Angra 1 and 2, were built over 40 years ago by Westinghouse and Siemens KWU respectively, near Rio de Janeiro.

Low output

Together they supply just 3% of national energy needs, while Itaipu, Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam, a bi-national project with Paraguay, alone supplies 15%.

Hydropower provides over 60% of Brazil’s energy needs, and the share of other renewables, wind, solar and biomass, although still regarded as unreliable by the government, is steadily increasing. But nuclear energy remains a cherished dream for some in the government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Leonam Guimarães, president of Eletronuclear, the company responsible for the three Angra reactors (in Portuguese), likes to point out that Brazil is one of only three countries, along with the US and Russia, which possess the three conditions needed for the complete process: it has some of the world’s largest uranium reserves, it dominates enrichment technology, and it has reactors.

For Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, finishing Angra 3 “is a priority project.” More alarmingly, one of President Bolsonaro’s sons, Eduardo, a federal congressman, said recently: “If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected” (in Portuguese).  Nobody took him seriously, and Brazil did sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1998.

Finishing Angra 3 will cost approximately £3bn. The estimated cost of the proposed new reactor at Itacuruba is £6bn. Nobody knows where the money will come from or whether these figures are realistic. The Brazilian economy is stagnating, with growth at a standstill.

Leak possibility

And what about the risks? Professor Heitor Scalambrini Costa, an energy specialist, said the reactor at Itacuruba would bring risks to the entire São Francisco river basin.

“Installing a nuclear reactor next to the São Francisco river brings the possibility of a leak of radioactive material”, he said. He pointed out that the river passes through 5 states, inhabited by several million people.

The protestors also have a local law on their side. It bans the installation of any nuclear plant unless all renewable sources, including hydropower, have been exhausted. That could be a long way ahead.

Bolsonaro’s government might dream of nuclear energy, his son might even dream of a nuclear bomb, but the law and economic reality are likely to get in the way. − Climate News Network

The prospect of more atomic energy for Brazil, envisaged under President Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan, fails to impress many of his compatriots.

SÃO PAULO, 6 July, 2019 − President Jair Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan is leaving many of his fellow Brazilians distinctly unenthusiastic at the prospect not of pollution alone but also of perceptible risk.

A few days ago a procession of men, women and children carrying banners and placards wound its way through the dry parched fields in the country’s semi-arid region in the north-east. It was a Sunday, and the crowd was led by the local bishop. But this was not one of the customary religious processions appealing for rain.

This time, the inhabitants of the small dusty town of Itacuruba were protesting against plans to install a nuclear plant on the banks of the river where they fish and draw their water.

The São Francisco river, which rises in the centre of Brazil and meanders its way 1,800 miles north and east to the Atlantic, is Brazil’s largest river flowing entirely within the country.

Over the years five dams and a scheme to divert and channel water to irrigate the region have severely reduced its volume.

“If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected”

Now the local population sees a new threat on the horizon: a nuclear reactor drawing water from the already diminished river, returning heated water that will kill the fish and bringing with it the risk of accidents and radiation.

So over 100 organisations have come together to form the Antinuclear Sertão (Semi-arid) movement, supported by the Catholic church, to challenge the planned reactor and denounce the risks it would bring.

The alarm was raised when the government’s proposed National Energy Plan 2050 was revealed. It includes plans for 8 new nuclear reactors, the first of them to be located in Itacuruba, and a £3 billion (R$14.4bn) contract to finish the Angra 3 reactor, begun over 30 years ago by Siemens KWU, but abandoned in 1986.

This is in spite of Brazil’s chequered history with nuclear power, and an abundant variety of renewable energy alternatives. Two pressurised water reactors (PWUs), Angra 1 and 2, were built over 40 years ago by Westinghouse and Siemens KWU respectively, near Rio de Janeiro.

Low output

Together they supply just 3% of national energy needs, while Itaipu, Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam, a bi-national project with Paraguay, alone supplies 15%.

Hydropower provides over 60% of Brazil’s energy needs, and the share of other renewables, wind, solar and biomass, although still regarded as unreliable by the government, is steadily increasing. But nuclear energy remains a cherished dream for some in the government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Leonam Guimarães, president of Eletronuclear, the company responsible for the three Angra reactors (in Portuguese), likes to point out that Brazil is one of only three countries, along with the US and Russia, which possess the three conditions needed for the complete process: it has some of the world’s largest uranium reserves, it dominates enrichment technology, and it has reactors.

For Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, finishing Angra 3 “is a priority project.” More alarmingly, one of President Bolsonaro’s sons, Eduardo, a federal congressman, said recently: “If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected” (in Portuguese).  Nobody took him seriously, and Brazil did sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1998.

Finishing Angra 3 will cost approximately £3bn. The estimated cost of the proposed new reactor at Itacuruba is £6bn. Nobody knows where the money will come from or whether these figures are realistic. The Brazilian economy is stagnating, with growth at a standstill.

Leak possibility

And what about the risks? Professor Heitor Scalambrini Costa, an energy specialist, said the reactor at Itacuruba would bring risks to the entire São Francisco river basin.

“Installing a nuclear reactor next to the São Francisco river brings the possibility of a leak of radioactive material”, he said. He pointed out that the river passes through 5 states, inhabited by several million people.

The protestors also have a local law on their side. It bans the installation of any nuclear plant unless all renewable sources, including hydropower, have been exhausted. That could be a long way ahead.

Bolsonaro’s government might dream of nuclear energy, his son might even dream of a nuclear bomb, but the law and economic reality are likely to get in the way. − Climate News Network

Solar future shines ever more brightly

Progress in China, the US and elsewhere shows an increasingly positive solar future as fuel from the sun grows cheaper and more abundant.

LONDON, 26 June, 2019 − The world’s solar future  continues to brighten, further and faster than seemed possible only a few years ago.

As the price of all types of solar technology goes on falling, it is becoming possible for large parts of the world to replace fossil fuels with cleaner and cheaper solar alternatives. A UN-backed report says much of Asia could meet all its electricity needs and ditch coal completely, by adopting solar power on a large scale.

After an initial drop of 2% in installations of solar equipment in the United States when President Donald Trump put a 30% tariff on overseas-manufactured solar panels, the market has picked up again and there are forecasts of a rapid growth rate this year.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association expects installations to rise by 25% in 2019 to a capacity of 13.3 gigawatts, about the output of 15 large coal-fired plants. This is more electricity than many smaller countries in Africa and Europe need to keep their lights on.

The boom in American solar power is due mainly to the continuous fall in the price of photo-voltaic panels, because of an over-supply in China. This has cancelled out the negative effect of Trump tariffs. States in the southern US, particularly Florida, are expecting to install large-scale solar farms this year that will produce electricity more cheaply than coal.

New technology

In China itself the solar boom continues. It has been strengthened by an innovation, a molten solar power plant in Dunhuang (in the north-western Gansu province, on the edge of the Gobi desert), costing three billion yuan (£345m/ $440m).

This uses 12,000 mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a tower containing molten salt which heats to a far greater temperature than water and creates steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.

The advantage of this concentrated solar power method over solar panels is that the heat can be stored in the salt and electricity produced in the evening when demand rises.

The 100 megawatt plant, enough to power a medium-sized city, can store energy for up to 15 hours, so it can work continuously and can re-charge itself when the sun comes up the following day. The Chinese engineers say the plant has already exceeded its design specifications.

The same technology is being used in Dubai, where an ambitious project, Noor Energy 1, will cover 44 square kilometres of desert. Costing $4.4 billion, it is the largest renewable energy project in the world, apart from hydropower, and combines both concentrated solar power and photo-voltaic technologies.

“The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia”

This combination is expected to produce 950 megawatts of power: it uses 550,000 tons of salt to store the heat. Again, the power output after sunset is expected to last for 15 hours. Dubai aims to generate 25% of its energy from solar power by 2030.

Although concentrated solar power plants take longer to construct and have a larger capital cost, the energy storage they provide makes them particularly attractive to desert states where the input from the sun is so reliable.

But the future for solar is bright over the whole of south and east Asia, according to a new report by Climate Analytics, which is supported by the United Nations. The study has seven country studies for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Climate Analytics researchers estimate that covering just 1.5% of the territory in each south and east Asian country with solar installations could satisfy their combined electricity consumption 13 times over.

Costs for renewables and energy storage technologies continue to fall: the average cost of renewables was often already in the same range as fossil fuels in 2016, even without accounting for external costs like health and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. It has now fallen further.

Key contribution

However, for the world to limit warming to 1.5°C, these  countries need to decarbonise their energy systems by 2050, and the power sector has a critical role to play.

According to the study, the share of zero carbon electricity generation needs to reach at least 50% in 2030 and 100% by 2050. Coal would need to be phased out of electricity generation by 2040.

“By decarbonising their energy systems, south and south-east Asian countries can make a fundamental difference in global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement, and will reap large economic and sustainable development benefits by doing so,” said the report’s author, Bill Hare, Climate Analytics’ CEO.

Dr Fahad Saeed, climate scientist at Climate Analytics, said: “The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia, which would contribute to achieving zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and clean water and sanitation.”

“It would also reduce the risk of flooding for large numbers of people living in coastal regions, as well as extreme heat that can otherwise reach intolerable levels for human health and labour productivity, particularly in densely populated cities in south Asia.” − Climate News Network

Progress in China, the US and elsewhere shows an increasingly positive solar future as fuel from the sun grows cheaper and more abundant.

LONDON, 26 June, 2019 − The world’s solar future  continues to brighten, further and faster than seemed possible only a few years ago.

As the price of all types of solar technology goes on falling, it is becoming possible for large parts of the world to replace fossil fuels with cleaner and cheaper solar alternatives. A UN-backed report says much of Asia could meet all its electricity needs and ditch coal completely, by adopting solar power on a large scale.

After an initial drop of 2% in installations of solar equipment in the United States when President Donald Trump put a 30% tariff on overseas-manufactured solar panels, the market has picked up again and there are forecasts of a rapid growth rate this year.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association expects installations to rise by 25% in 2019 to a capacity of 13.3 gigawatts, about the output of 15 large coal-fired plants. This is more electricity than many smaller countries in Africa and Europe need to keep their lights on.

The boom in American solar power is due mainly to the continuous fall in the price of photo-voltaic panels, because of an over-supply in China. This has cancelled out the negative effect of Trump tariffs. States in the southern US, particularly Florida, are expecting to install large-scale solar farms this year that will produce electricity more cheaply than coal.

New technology

In China itself the solar boom continues. It has been strengthened by an innovation, a molten solar power plant in Dunhuang (in the north-western Gansu province, on the edge of the Gobi desert), costing three billion yuan (£345m/ $440m).

This uses 12,000 mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a tower containing molten salt which heats to a far greater temperature than water and creates steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.

The advantage of this concentrated solar power method over solar panels is that the heat can be stored in the salt and electricity produced in the evening when demand rises.

The 100 megawatt plant, enough to power a medium-sized city, can store energy for up to 15 hours, so it can work continuously and can re-charge itself when the sun comes up the following day. The Chinese engineers say the plant has already exceeded its design specifications.

The same technology is being used in Dubai, where an ambitious project, Noor Energy 1, will cover 44 square kilometres of desert. Costing $4.4 billion, it is the largest renewable energy project in the world, apart from hydropower, and combines both concentrated solar power and photo-voltaic technologies.

“The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia”

This combination is expected to produce 950 megawatts of power: it uses 550,000 tons of salt to store the heat. Again, the power output after sunset is expected to last for 15 hours. Dubai aims to generate 25% of its energy from solar power by 2030.

Although concentrated solar power plants take longer to construct and have a larger capital cost, the energy storage they provide makes them particularly attractive to desert states where the input from the sun is so reliable.

But the future for solar is bright over the whole of south and east Asia, according to a new report by Climate Analytics, which is supported by the United Nations. The study has seven country studies for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Climate Analytics researchers estimate that covering just 1.5% of the territory in each south and east Asian country with solar installations could satisfy their combined electricity consumption 13 times over.

Costs for renewables and energy storage technologies continue to fall: the average cost of renewables was often already in the same range as fossil fuels in 2016, even without accounting for external costs like health and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. It has now fallen further.

Key contribution

However, for the world to limit warming to 1.5°C, these  countries need to decarbonise their energy systems by 2050, and the power sector has a critical role to play.

According to the study, the share of zero carbon electricity generation needs to reach at least 50% in 2030 and 100% by 2050. Coal would need to be phased out of electricity generation by 2040.

“By decarbonising their energy systems, south and south-east Asian countries can make a fundamental difference in global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement, and will reap large economic and sustainable development benefits by doing so,” said the report’s author, Bill Hare, Climate Analytics’ CEO.

Dr Fahad Saeed, climate scientist at Climate Analytics, said: “The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia, which would contribute to achieving zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and clean water and sanitation.”

“It would also reduce the risk of flooding for large numbers of people living in coastal regions, as well as extreme heat that can otherwise reach intolerable levels for human health and labour productivity, particularly in densely populated cities in south Asia.” − Climate News Network

US military is huge greenhouse gas emitter

The US military is now the 47th greenhouse gas emitter. A machine powered to keep the world safer paradoxically increases the levels of climate danger.

LONDON, 21 June, 2019 – British scientists have identified one of the world’s great emitters of greenhouse gases, a silent agency which buys as much fuel as Portugal or Peru and emits more carbon dioxide than all of Romania: the US military.

Ironically, this agency is acutely aware that the climate emergency makes the world more dangerous,
increasing the risk of conflict around the planet. And simply because it is conscious of this risk, it is ever more likely to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels.

The US military machine, with a global supply chain and massive logistical apparatus designed to confront perceived threats in war zones around the world, if it were a nation state, would be 47th in the global league tables for greenhouse gas emissions from fuel usage alone.

And these figures are not included in the US aggregates for national greenhouse gas emissions because an exemption was granted under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (which in 2001 President Bush declined to sign). But they would be counted under the terms of the Paris Accord of 2015, from which President Trump has withdrawn, say researchers in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Basic contradiction

“The US military has long understood it is not immune from the potential consequences of climate change – recognising it as a threat-multiplier that can exacerbate other threats – nor has it ignored its own contribution to the problem,” said Patrick Bigger, of Lancaster University’s environment centre, and one of the authors.

“Yet its climate policy is fundamentally contradictory – confronting the effects of climate change while remaining the biggest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons around the world, a situation it is locked into for years to come because of its dependence on existing aircraft and warships for operations around the globe.”

The researchers started with information obtained under Freedom of Information laws and data from the US Defense Logistics Agency, and records from the World Bank, to build up a picture of energy use by what is in effect a state-within-a-state.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future”

The US military first launched its own global hydrocarbon supply system on the orders of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and since then demand per fighting soldier, airman or sailor has grown.

In the Second World War, each soldier consumed one gallon of fuel daily. By the Vietnam War, with increased use of helicopters and airpower, this had increased ninefold. By the time US military personnel arrived in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel consumption had reached 22 gallons per soldier per day.

Now the Defense Logistics Agency’s energy division handles 14 million gallons of fuel per day at a cost of $53 million a day, and can deliver to 2,023 military outposts, camps and stations in 38 countries. It also supplies fuel stores to 51 countries and 506 air bases or fields that US aircraft might use.

Between 2015 and 2017, US forces were active in 76 countries. Of these seven were on the receiving end of air or drone strikes and 15 had “boots on the ground”. There were 44 overseas military bases, and 56 countries were receiving training in counter-terrorism. In 2017, all this added up to fuel purchases of 269,230 barrels of oil a day and the release of 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

‘Military’s vast furnace’

“Each of these missions requires energy – often considerable amounts of it,” the scientists say. The impacts of climate change are likely to continue in ways that are more intense, prolonged and widespread, which would give cover to even more extensive US military operations. The only way to cool what they call the “military’s vast furnace” is to turn it off.

Climate change campaigners too need to contest US military interventionism. “This will not only have the immediate effect of reducing emissions in the here-and-now, but will also disincentivize the development of new hydrocarbon infrastructure that would be financed (in whatever unrecognized part) on the presumption of the US military as an always-willing buyer and consumer,” the scientists conclude.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future.” – Climate News Network

The US military is now the 47th greenhouse gas emitter. A machine powered to keep the world safer paradoxically increases the levels of climate danger.

LONDON, 21 June, 2019 – British scientists have identified one of the world’s great emitters of greenhouse gases, a silent agency which buys as much fuel as Portugal or Peru and emits more carbon dioxide than all of Romania: the US military.

Ironically, this agency is acutely aware that the climate emergency makes the world more dangerous,
increasing the risk of conflict around the planet. And simply because it is conscious of this risk, it is ever more likely to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels.

The US military machine, with a global supply chain and massive logistical apparatus designed to confront perceived threats in war zones around the world, if it were a nation state, would be 47th in the global league tables for greenhouse gas emissions from fuel usage alone.

And these figures are not included in the US aggregates for national greenhouse gas emissions because an exemption was granted under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (which in 2001 President Bush declined to sign). But they would be counted under the terms of the Paris Accord of 2015, from which President Trump has withdrawn, say researchers in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Basic contradiction

“The US military has long understood it is not immune from the potential consequences of climate change – recognising it as a threat-multiplier that can exacerbate other threats – nor has it ignored its own contribution to the problem,” said Patrick Bigger, of Lancaster University’s environment centre, and one of the authors.

“Yet its climate policy is fundamentally contradictory – confronting the effects of climate change while remaining the biggest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons around the world, a situation it is locked into for years to come because of its dependence on existing aircraft and warships for operations around the globe.”

The researchers started with information obtained under Freedom of Information laws and data from the US Defense Logistics Agency, and records from the World Bank, to build up a picture of energy use by what is in effect a state-within-a-state.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future”

The US military first launched its own global hydrocarbon supply system on the orders of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and since then demand per fighting soldier, airman or sailor has grown.

In the Second World War, each soldier consumed one gallon of fuel daily. By the Vietnam War, with increased use of helicopters and airpower, this had increased ninefold. By the time US military personnel arrived in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel consumption had reached 22 gallons per soldier per day.

Now the Defense Logistics Agency’s energy division handles 14 million gallons of fuel per day at a cost of $53 million a day, and can deliver to 2,023 military outposts, camps and stations in 38 countries. It also supplies fuel stores to 51 countries and 506 air bases or fields that US aircraft might use.

Between 2015 and 2017, US forces were active in 76 countries. Of these seven were on the receiving end of air or drone strikes and 15 had “boots on the ground”. There were 44 overseas military bases, and 56 countries were receiving training in counter-terrorism. In 2017, all this added up to fuel purchases of 269,230 barrels of oil a day and the release of 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

‘Military’s vast furnace’

“Each of these missions requires energy – often considerable amounts of it,” the scientists say. The impacts of climate change are likely to continue in ways that are more intense, prolonged and widespread, which would give cover to even more extensive US military operations. The only way to cool what they call the “military’s vast furnace” is to turn it off.

Climate change campaigners too need to contest US military interventionism. “This will not only have the immediate effect of reducing emissions in the here-and-now, but will also disincentivize the development of new hydrocarbon infrastructure that would be financed (in whatever unrecognized part) on the presumption of the US military as an always-willing buyer and consumer,” the scientists conclude.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future.” – Climate News Network

Hydrogen can replace natural gas by 2050

Engineers say there is no technical reason why hydrogen cannot replace natural gas to make electricity, heat homes and for cooking.

LONDON, 17 June, 2019 − The UK government, which has just declared it aims to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, has been told by Britain’s leading engineers that hydrogen can safely be used to replace natural gas in the country’s gas grid.

Since 85% of homes in Britain use gas for cooking and heating and 40% of electricity is currently generated by gas, this would be a major leap towards cutting emissions − and it could be done in the next 30 years.

It is an important development for all countries striving to reach zero emissions, because replacing gas central heating in homes and offices has always been described as one of the most difficult technical problems to overcome in order to attain a low-carbon future.

If Britain were to replace natural gas with hydrogen in the grid it would be the first country in the world to do so, and the engineers caution that being a pioneer might produce unforeseen teething problems.

“Using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for use by homes and businesses … could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector”

They announce their news in a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), using experts from five professional engineering institutions. It was commissioned by the government to assess the engineering risks and uncertainties around using hydrogen in homes, businesses and factories as a low-carbon fuel.

The snag about the report for environmentalists is that the engineers suggest converting existing supplies of natural gas into hydrogen using a process called gas reforming, which effectively strips the carbon out of it.

The problem with this technology is that the carbon would then have to be stored and used as a product, a technique that has yet to be properly developed on a large scale.

The report’s authors say this is cheaper than the alternative method of making hydrogen from renewable energy. That involves passing an electric current through water, known as electrolysis. When hydrogen is produced this way and burned it combines with oxygen to produce pure water and no carbon; so from an environmental point of view it is far cleaner.

High volumes needed

The engineers say electrolysis is considerably more expensive for producing the large volumes of hydrogen required to feed the entire national gas grid. However, many companies producing excess electrical power from offshore wind farms and tidal power are investing in plants to make hydrogen this way, so the process is already getting cheaper.

In order to use hydrogen rather than natural gas in the grid the engineers say that existing iron gas mains would need to be replaced by hydrogen-safe polyethylene pipes by 2030, a process that has already begun.

Existing gas boilers in homes would also have to be replaced with “hydrogen-ready” appliances.  The report says that could be done at little extra cost to consumers because boilers are replaced every 10 to 15 years, so by the time the hydrogen was flowing the boilers would be in place.

Lead author Dr Robert Sansom of the IET’s energy policy panel said: “We are now in a position to seriously consider the viability of using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for use by homes and businesses, which could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector.

Lack of experience

“Hydrogen has not been deployed at scale anywhere in the world and so any proposal will need to compensate for this lack of experience. Our report identifies key risks and uncertainties such as ensuring that we understand the impact on the public from a transition to hydrogen and can minimise any disruption that arises.

“We know hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when burned, but it is also important to fully investigate and understand the overall environmental impact a switch to hydrogen is likely to make.

“It is ambitious. To make a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s 2050 carbon reduction target the transition to hydrogen would need to be implemented over the next 30 years. This may seem a long time but in terms of the infrastructure required and the millions of homes and businesses affected it is relatively short.

“Action is required now, and we hope that our findings and subsequent recommendations can make a significant contribution to advancing the decarbonisation of the UK.” − Climate News Network

Engineers say there is no technical reason why hydrogen cannot replace natural gas to make electricity, heat homes and for cooking.

LONDON, 17 June, 2019 − The UK government, which has just declared it aims to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, has been told by Britain’s leading engineers that hydrogen can safely be used to replace natural gas in the country’s gas grid.

Since 85% of homes in Britain use gas for cooking and heating and 40% of electricity is currently generated by gas, this would be a major leap towards cutting emissions − and it could be done in the next 30 years.

It is an important development for all countries striving to reach zero emissions, because replacing gas central heating in homes and offices has always been described as one of the most difficult technical problems to overcome in order to attain a low-carbon future.

If Britain were to replace natural gas with hydrogen in the grid it would be the first country in the world to do so, and the engineers caution that being a pioneer might produce unforeseen teething problems.

“Using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for use by homes and businesses … could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector”

They announce their news in a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), using experts from five professional engineering institutions. It was commissioned by the government to assess the engineering risks and uncertainties around using hydrogen in homes, businesses and factories as a low-carbon fuel.

The snag about the report for environmentalists is that the engineers suggest converting existing supplies of natural gas into hydrogen using a process called gas reforming, which effectively strips the carbon out of it.

The problem with this technology is that the carbon would then have to be stored and used as a product, a technique that has yet to be properly developed on a large scale.

The report’s authors say this is cheaper than the alternative method of making hydrogen from renewable energy. That involves passing an electric current through water, known as electrolysis. When hydrogen is produced this way and burned it combines with oxygen to produce pure water and no carbon; so from an environmental point of view it is far cleaner.

High volumes needed

The engineers say electrolysis is considerably more expensive for producing the large volumes of hydrogen required to feed the entire national gas grid. However, many companies producing excess electrical power from offshore wind farms and tidal power are investing in plants to make hydrogen this way, so the process is already getting cheaper.

In order to use hydrogen rather than natural gas in the grid the engineers say that existing iron gas mains would need to be replaced by hydrogen-safe polyethylene pipes by 2030, a process that has already begun.

Existing gas boilers in homes would also have to be replaced with “hydrogen-ready” appliances.  The report says that could be done at little extra cost to consumers because boilers are replaced every 10 to 15 years, so by the time the hydrogen was flowing the boilers would be in place.

Lead author Dr Robert Sansom of the IET’s energy policy panel said: “We are now in a position to seriously consider the viability of using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for use by homes and businesses, which could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector.

Lack of experience

“Hydrogen has not been deployed at scale anywhere in the world and so any proposal will need to compensate for this lack of experience. Our report identifies key risks and uncertainties such as ensuring that we understand the impact on the public from a transition to hydrogen and can minimise any disruption that arises.

“We know hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when burned, but it is also important to fully investigate and understand the overall environmental impact a switch to hydrogen is likely to make.

“It is ambitious. To make a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s 2050 carbon reduction target the transition to hydrogen would need to be implemented over the next 30 years. This may seem a long time but in terms of the infrastructure required and the millions of homes and businesses affected it is relatively short.

“Action is required now, and we hope that our findings and subsequent recommendations can make a significant contribution to advancing the decarbonisation of the UK.” − Climate News Network

France’s nuclear industry struggles on

With its new reactors needing modifications and its older ones awaiting costly updates, France’s nuclear industry is in trouble.

LONDON, 27 May, 2019 − EDF, France’s nuclear industry leader and the last European company trying to build large reactors, has had further setbacks to its flagship project that make the company’s future prospects look bleak.

The giant Flamanville-3 European pressurised water reactor (EPR), in Normandy in northern France, has difficult-to-repair faulty welds that will delay its start-up, possibly for years, and add to an already overstretched budget.

The French nuclear regulator ASN is yet to decide exactly how EDF must repair 66 faulty welds that currently render the nearly completed 1,600 megawatt reactor too dangerous to load with nuclear fuel. Eight of the welds are inside the reactor’s containment and extremely difficult to reach and fix.

The company is due to meet ASN on 29 May to discuss the best way of tackling the problem that will require specialist skills and equipment. It makes EDF’s current start date for the reactor, March 2020, extremely unlikely to be met, and will probably put the whole project back at least a year, probably two.

Licence problem

Apart from the enormous extra costs involved, the delay will also extend the construction beyond the current licensing decree granted by the French government, another embarrassment for the company.

According to Reuters news agency, when construction started in 2007 the target date for completion was 2012, but a string of technical difficulties have meant delays, and costs have tripled. The latest delay adds €400 million to the cost, which is now estimated to be €10.9 billion ($12.2bn).

Although the meeting on the problem is to take place this month, it may be weeks before any decisions are made on exactly how the problems will be tackled.

“The renewables sector is booming in France, but EDF’s ageing nuclear fleet of 58 reactors requires immense investment to bring them all up to date”

The news about Flamanville-3 comes at the same time as further modifications have been ordered to another long-delayed EPR, which should have been completed in 2009 but has yet to become fully operational.

Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, the first prototype EPR, was “hot-tested” in preparation for loading fuel last year, but encountered unexpected vibrations during operation, making it potentially unsafe. The company TVO that is to run the plant says some bitumen cushions have been developed to stop the problem and these will “resolve the vibration issue.”

Under the latest schedule fuel will be loaded into the reactor in June and, all being well, it should start producing power to the grid in 2020 – 11 years late. It is due to produce 15% of Finland’s energy demand.

These events are being watched closely from the United Kingdom, where EDF is starting the building of two more EPRs at Hinkley Point in Somerset, in the West of England.

Older reactors affected

Both reactors are supposed to be completed by 2025, but this seems an extremely optimistic timetable when on average delays to the two built so far in Western Europe seem to be 10 years. For any civil engineering project apart from nuclear power, this kind of delay would be catastrophic.

The company, which has a separate British subsidiary, is also having trouble with its older reactors in the UK. They are long-abandoned UK designs with graphite cores to control the nuclear reaction, but inspections have revealed hundreds of cracks in the graphite.

Although some cracking in the ageing reactors, at Hunterston B in Scotland, is to be expected, the number far exceeds the existing safety case. The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is considering a new safety case put forward by EDF to allow the reactors to start up after many months of idleness. So far no permission has been granted.

Several deadlines have passed, and last week EDF wrote to local stakeholders advising them that the start-up had been delayed again, to 24 June for one reactor and 31 July for the second. On past performance it is unlikely that either of these dates will be met.

Operation in question

The issue is crucial for the future of EDF in the UK because all but one of the nuclear stations are advanced gas cooled reactors of the same generic design as Hunterston B and produce more than 10% of the nation’s electricity.

If the safety case for the two Hunterston reactors is rejected, then it puts a question mark over whether the remaining 12 should also be shut down.

It is clear that the French government is aware of the parlous state of the energy giant in which it is a majority shareholder. The government is considering splitting the company into two, separating the nuclear arm from the parts of the company that are now heavily investing in renewables.

The renewables sector is booming in France, but EDF’s ageing nuclear fleet of 58 reactors requires immense investment to bring them all up to date. Only by separating the renewable portfolio and renationalising the nuclear arm can the government hope to keep EDF from sinking deeper into debt. − Climate News Network

With its new reactors needing modifications and its older ones awaiting costly updates, France’s nuclear industry is in trouble.

LONDON, 27 May, 2019 − EDF, France’s nuclear industry leader and the last European company trying to build large reactors, has had further setbacks to its flagship project that make the company’s future prospects look bleak.

The giant Flamanville-3 European pressurised water reactor (EPR), in Normandy in northern France, has difficult-to-repair faulty welds that will delay its start-up, possibly for years, and add to an already overstretched budget.

The French nuclear regulator ASN is yet to decide exactly how EDF must repair 66 faulty welds that currently render the nearly completed 1,600 megawatt reactor too dangerous to load with nuclear fuel. Eight of the welds are inside the reactor’s containment and extremely difficult to reach and fix.

The company is due to meet ASN on 29 May to discuss the best way of tackling the problem that will require specialist skills and equipment. It makes EDF’s current start date for the reactor, March 2020, extremely unlikely to be met, and will probably put the whole project back at least a year, probably two.

Licence problem

Apart from the enormous extra costs involved, the delay will also extend the construction beyond the current licensing decree granted by the French government, another embarrassment for the company.

According to Reuters news agency, when construction started in 2007 the target date for completion was 2012, but a string of technical difficulties have meant delays, and costs have tripled. The latest delay adds €400 million to the cost, which is now estimated to be €10.9 billion ($12.2bn).

Although the meeting on the problem is to take place this month, it may be weeks before any decisions are made on exactly how the problems will be tackled.

“The renewables sector is booming in France, but EDF’s ageing nuclear fleet of 58 reactors requires immense investment to bring them all up to date”

The news about Flamanville-3 comes at the same time as further modifications have been ordered to another long-delayed EPR, which should have been completed in 2009 but has yet to become fully operational.

Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, the first prototype EPR, was “hot-tested” in preparation for loading fuel last year, but encountered unexpected vibrations during operation, making it potentially unsafe. The company TVO that is to run the plant says some bitumen cushions have been developed to stop the problem and these will “resolve the vibration issue.”

Under the latest schedule fuel will be loaded into the reactor in June and, all being well, it should start producing power to the grid in 2020 – 11 years late. It is due to produce 15% of Finland’s energy demand.

These events are being watched closely from the United Kingdom, where EDF is starting the building of two more EPRs at Hinkley Point in Somerset, in the West of England.

Older reactors affected

Both reactors are supposed to be completed by 2025, but this seems an extremely optimistic timetable when on average delays to the two built so far in Western Europe seem to be 10 years. For any civil engineering project apart from nuclear power, this kind of delay would be catastrophic.

The company, which has a separate British subsidiary, is also having trouble with its older reactors in the UK. They are long-abandoned UK designs with graphite cores to control the nuclear reaction, but inspections have revealed hundreds of cracks in the graphite.

Although some cracking in the ageing reactors, at Hunterston B in Scotland, is to be expected, the number far exceeds the existing safety case. The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is considering a new safety case put forward by EDF to allow the reactors to start up after many months of idleness. So far no permission has been granted.

Several deadlines have passed, and last week EDF wrote to local stakeholders advising them that the start-up had been delayed again, to 24 June for one reactor and 31 July for the second. On past performance it is unlikely that either of these dates will be met.

Operation in question

The issue is crucial for the future of EDF in the UK because all but one of the nuclear stations are advanced gas cooled reactors of the same generic design as Hunterston B and produce more than 10% of the nation’s electricity.

If the safety case for the two Hunterston reactors is rejected, then it puts a question mark over whether the remaining 12 should also be shut down.

It is clear that the French government is aware of the parlous state of the energy giant in which it is a majority shareholder. The government is considering splitting the company into two, separating the nuclear arm from the parts of the company that are now heavily investing in renewables.

The renewables sector is booming in France, but EDF’s ageing nuclear fleet of 58 reactors requires immense investment to bring them all up to date. Only by separating the renewable portfolio and renationalising the nuclear arm can the government hope to keep EDF from sinking deeper into debt. − Climate News Network