2015 Nuclear Issues Vol 38 No 7 August

Posted by NucNet on 30 August 2015 in Issues

Tagged with: Bertel Lohmann Andersen, E.On Sverige, Fessenheim, Krško, Oskarshamn, Vattenfall.


For those who have been puzzled by the French government decision to close the nuclear reactors at Fessenheim on the border with Germany an interesting comment is provided by a Danish colleague, Bertel Lohmann Andersen, on how Merkel and Hollande avoided an embarrassing situation.

Fessenheim with two pressurized water reactors, each generating 900 MW, which began operating in 1977 could have been expected to continue for some 10 or 20 more years. Nuclear power provides France with some of the cheapest domestic electricity in Europe: in EUR/kwh 2014, France 0.175, Germany 0.297, UK 0.201. (including taxes)

Mr Anderson says – It is not well considered if a government of country A tries to interfere with the matters of a neighboring country B. The leaders of B cannot follow the “recommendations” from A, since they will loose face. And the leaders of A, knowing that interference is not “comme il faux”, will try to avoid it. An example of how such a situation can be avoided is given by the recent French law: Energy Transition for Green Growth. A queer detail of this law is the limitation of French nuclear capacity to 63.2 GW, which is identical to the total capacity of the 58 reactors presently operating in France. An attempt in the second chamber, the Senate, to increase this to 64.85 GW failed. How can it be that 63.2 GW acquires a “magic” character which must not be surpassed?

With an increased capacity of 64.85 GW it would be possible to start the reactor presently under construction at Flamanville and keep all existing reactors running, including the two oldest reactors in France in Fessenheim on the Rhine. Both reactors went into commercial operation in 1978 and will therefore pass their 40th anniversary early in 2018. President Hollande in his election campaign promised to close Fessenheim in 2016, i.e. before his presidential period expires in the first half of 2017. So the capacity limit of 63.2 GW may be seen as a way the assure fulfillment of this promise.

Is there an obvious argument for the closure of Fessenheim? Yes there is. In neighboring Germany nuclear reactors are closed at the age of about 32 years. How will the German anti-nuclear forces react if they have succeeded in closing down all nuclear reactors in their own country but still can watch reactors operating just across Rhine? Without doubt the reaction will be strong and will put pressure on the federal government to ask France to close “at least” Fessenheim. This interference in the business of another country should be avoided, as just mentioned. So both Merkel and Hollande have a very strong interest in avoiding this situation. It is likely then, that they have had time in their numerous recent meetings to find a solution which will save the face of both. Germany will not ask France to close Fessenheim, and the president of the republic merely can refer to the law and will not have to issue any order. Simply smart.

Green growth

The French law for ‘green growth’ itself shows a fixed mindset biased towards the renewable energies of solar, wind, tides. But these energies are essentially intermittent. They cannot on their own supply electricity needs of a modern society. They must require back-up from other sources for the time that they are not able to generate – periods of calm, or low sunshine etc – and these will have to come from imports of energy or from fossil fuel plants held on standby. The only reliable full time electricity source is from nuclear power.

Under the French Law however energy seems to be regarded, not as a benefit to a modern society, but as something we should try to do without. One declared aim of the law is “to divide our end consumption of energy in two by 2050.” Why? Would we halve our consumption of food in the same manner.

Certainly we should not waste energy but this ‘hair shirt’ attitude to energy shows a fixed mind-set rather than a sensible attempt to improve the well- being of the public and industry.

And now Sweden

The German utility company E.ON through its subsidiary E.On Sverige has substantial shareholdings in Swedish nuclear electricity companies. It owns 54.5 % of Oskarshamns Kraftgrupp – OKG) with its 3 nuclear stations (the remaining 45.5% is held by Fortum of Finland); it has 29.6% of Ringhals with Vattenfall 70.4% and a token 8.5% in Forsmark.

E.On which had previously announced plans to uprate Oskarshamn 2 – in operation since 1974 – by 185 MWe and extend its life to 60 years has now proposed an early shut down. This however is strongly opposed by the minority shareholder Fortum which has said – “contrary to E.ON’s view, we believe that it is possible to continue production from Oskarshamn units 1 and 2 until the end of their planned operational lifetimes”. And further, “the recent modernization investments in Oskarshamn 2 have been carried out with a target to continue production until the end of the unit’s lifetime and with increased capacity. Considering the investments made, as well as our strong expertise as a nuclear operator and a global service provider, we see that there are other measures [that could be] taken to ensure safe and reliable production at Oskarshamn 2 till the end of its planned lifetime.” The final decision is awaited.

The Swedish state utility Vattenfalls which has the majority share in the nuclear plant at Ringhals is now proposing to shut down Ringhals 1 and 2 some m10 years before the planned date of 2025 although they are said to be “in good shape”. The reason given is an increase in the nuclear tax which is supposedly levied to meet the decommissioning costs; this “effektskatt” is based on the plant capacity (MW) regardless of how much is produced.

The probable outcome of these moves seems likely to be a dependence on electricity imports from Russia and Belaruss, where a substantial expansion of nuclear production is planned, through the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan which brings together all countries around the Baltic Sea – namely, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and as an observer, Norway.

Nuclear Power in perspective

Some interesting comments on the future for nuclear power are given in a paper by Stephen Tindale – ‘State aid for energy: Climate action is more important than the single market.’ Feb 2015. Centre for European Reform
On the question of nuclear waste he points out that while radioactive waste does indeed need to be managed for long periods, greenhouse gases – another form of waste from burning fossil fuels for energy production – cannot be managed at all and according to the World Health Organisation cause 150,000 premature deaths each year worldwide.

Accidents can also occur at nuclear power stations. But they are also possible, and much more frequent, in coal mines. In the last ten years there have been fatal coal mine accidents in the EU (in Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain) killing 82 people. Coal power generation also produces radioactivity and some studies have concluded that this is more damaging to human health than radioactive emissions from nuclear power stations. Burning coal also produces toxic pollution as well as climate change and this leads to his challenging conclusion “Coal is far more dangerous than nuclear power”.

Finally Nuclear power plants can be run for up to 60 years, with relatively low operating costs compared with an operating life of about 25 years for wind farms.

Life extension

As an example the operating life of the Krško nuclear power plant in Slovenia is to be extended by 20 years following an agreement between Slovenia and neighbouring Croatia, which jointly own the plant. This will extend its life to 60 years enabling it to continue operating until 2043.
Construction started in 1975 when the two countries then formed Yugoslavia, and it was connected to the grid in 1981, entering commercial operation in 1983. In 2001 its steam generators were replaced and the plant was then uprated by 6% and subsequently by a further 3%. Its operational life was designed to be 40 years, but a 20-year extension was confirmed in mid 2015.

The Krško plant, a single 696 MWe Westinghouse PWR operated by Nuklearna Elektrarna Krško (NEK), is jointly owned by Slovenia and Croatia with the electricity output is shared equally between them. It generates some 40% of electricity produced in Slovenia, but half of this is taken by Croatia. Each country is also responsible for half of the radioactive waste generated by the plant.

Share of electricity from nuclear

An interesting table giving the share of nuclear electricity in different countries taken from the Carbon Brief shows that nuclear plays a significant part in meeting the needs of a number of Eastern European countries – Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria. The USA, UK, Canada and Russia are well down the list.

Share of Electricity from nuclear power (chart)