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The Telegraph (UK): Technology revolution in nuclear power could slash costs below coal

Thursday 25 September 2014

Technology revolution in nuclear power could slash costs below coal

A report by UBS said the latest reactors will be obsolete by within 10 to 20 years, yet Britain is locking in prices until 2060

The Telegraph, 9:23PM BST 24 Sep 2014

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The cost of conventional nuclear power has spiralled to levels that can no longer be justified. All the reactors being built across the world are variants of mid-20th century technology, inherently dirty and dangerous, requiring exorbitant safety controls.

This is a failure of wit and will. Scientists in Britain, France, Canada, the US, China and Japan have already designed better reactors based on molten salt technology that promise to slash costs by half or more, and may even undercut coal. They are much safer, and consume nuclear waste rather than creating more. What stands in the way is a fortress of vested interests.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report for 2014 found that 49 of the 66 reactors under construction - mostly in Asia - are plagued with delays, and are blowing through their budgets.

Average costs have risen from $1,000 per kilowatt hour to around $8,000/kW over the past decade for new nuclear, which is why Britain could not persuade anybody to build its two reactors at Hinkley Point without fat subsidies and a "strike price" for electricity that is double current levels.

All five new reactors in the US are behind schedule. Finland’s giant EPR reactor at Olkiluoto has been delayed again. It will not be up and running until 2018, nine years late. It was supposed to cost €3.2bn. Analysts now think it will be €8.5bn. It is the same story with France’s Flamanville reactor.

We have reached the end of the road for pressurised water reactors of any kind, whatever new features they boast. The business is not viable - even leaving aside the clean-up costs - and it makes little sense to persist in building them. A report by UBS said the latest reactors will be obsolete by within 10 to 20 years, yet Britain is locking in prices until 2060.

The Alvin Weinberg Foundation in London is tracking seven proposals across the world for molten salt reactors (MSRs) rather than relying on solid uranium fuel. Unlike conventional reactors, these operate at atmospheric pressure. They do not need vast reinforced domes. There is no risk of blowing off the top.

The reactors are more efficient. They burn up 30 times as much of the nuclear fuel and can run off spent fuel. The molten salt is inert so that even if there is a leak, it cools and solidifies. The fission process stops automatically in an accident. There can be no chain-reaction, and therefore no possible disaster along the lines of Chernobyl or Fukushima. That at least is the claim.


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