The Economist, Jan 30th 2017, 18:24 BY THE DATA TEAM
THE boom in nuclear energy began in the 1950s, when America, Russia, Britain and France rushed to develop reactor technologies for electricity generation. By the late 1970s around 230 reactors were under construction. However, following the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, fears about safety led governments in Europe and America to halt construction and wind down research on new civilian nuclear technology. Interest in nuclear energy did not rebound until the turn of the millennium, when concerns over securing energy supplies, reducing carbon emissions and meeting the growing demand for electricity in developing economies kick-started another wave of investment.
Building reactors is not an easy business proposition. Two recent additions to the world’s nuclear fleet, in Argentina and the United States, took 33 and 44 years to erect. Moreover, neither of the two technologies that were supposed to revolutionise the supply of nuclear energy—the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) and the AP1000 from America’s Westinghouse—has yet been installed, despite being conceived early this century. According to the Global Nuclear Power database, almost two-thirds of the 55 plants currently under construction are behind schedule. In Finland, France and China, all of the EPRs in progress are years behind planners′ expectations. Delays in construction of the AP1000s in America are likely to cost Toshiba, their owner, billions of dollars. On January 27th Toshiba said it was scaling back its nuclear ambitions.
Nonetheless, relative upstarts in South Korea and China show that large reactor projects are still viable. South Korea’s Korea Electric Power (KEPCO) is building four plants in the United Arab Emirates. The first reactor at the Barakah plant in Abu Dhabi is set to go online within months, on time and possibly on budget. If it succeeds, the reason is likely to be consistency. KEPCO always works with the same suppliers and construction firms hailing from Korea Inc. By contrast, both the EPR and AP1000, first-of-a-kind technologies with teething problems, have suffered from being contracted out to global engineering firms. South Korean capital costs have remained fairly stable in the past 20 years; such costs have almost tripled in France and America. Even if construction never reaches the dizzy heights of the 1970s, long-suffering backers of nuclear power do have something to pin their hopes on.
Read full article “How to build a nuclear-power plant”.