Friday, October 31, 2008

Japan's emerging plutonium economy

Fossil out, fast reactors in. Funds need for nuclear R&D

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has released a report which states that by the end of this century two-thirds of all electricity in the country will come from nuclear sources. The report was also critical of Japan's poor track record of putting R&D advances in the nuclear energy field into practical use.

flashThe report projected that one-third of all of Japan's electricity will come from Fast Reactors by the end of this century. [large image]

In a supply-and-demand study called ‘2100 Nuclear Vision: Proposal Toward a Low-Carbon Society’, the JAEA says the aim by 2100 is to reduce CO2 emissions by about 90 percent from current levels. That's fast work.

It estimated the country would need about 230 nuclear power plants by 2100 to realize a society that produces low carbon emissions.That's a lot of work.

The study includes four major proposals:

  • The use of renewable energy and nuclear energy must be increased.
  • Nuclear energy will be used for power generation and also as a heat source in the production of hydrogen.
  • Final energy consumption should be reduced to about 60% of current levels by 2100.
  • The approximate component shares of each type of energy will be 60% for electricity – an increase of 25% from today’s level – 30% for fossil fuels (now 75%) and 10% for hydrogen.

Nuclear energy mix

kwhThe JAEA said the total amount of generated electricity in 2100 is expected to reach around 1,700 billion kilowatt-hours, with nuclear accounting for about 67% of which 18% will come from light water reactors (LWRs), 35% from fast breeder reactors (FBRs), and 14% from other types of advanced reactors.

Today, Japan has 55 reactor units in commercial operation and two, Tomari-3 and Shimani-3, listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as under construction.

All seven units at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant remain offline following a strong earthquake in July 2007. The nuclear share in electricity generation was about 28% in 2007.

By 2100, the report says, 120 high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR) will be in use in the production of hydrogen, with a thermal capacity of 72,000 MW. That works out to an an average size of 600 MW per plant.

By comparison, the "Next Generation Nuclear Plant," (NGNP) which is planned to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) starting in 2016, is slated to be 300 MW. Lab officials have complained to energy trade journals about the lack of funding needed to meet that schedule.

R&D Investments and outcomes still a problem

If Japan wants to get one-third of its energy from fast reactors, it will have to significantly change the way it funds and manages its nuclear R&D programs.

According to the report there has been little enthusiasm from the government for R&D in nuclear power. The Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, has been out of operation since a 1995 accident. According to a recent report the plant is still facing significant problems. The JAEA is struggling to resolve them and reopen the facility.

unhappyThe report said if the government maintains its "lukewarm attitude toward research," it will not attract young researchers or the research funds needed for progress. Budgets for nuclear R&D over the past 15 years have reportedly been declining and and new scientists are seeking other fields. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Japan joined GNEP but has little to show for it

In April 2007 JAEA officially joined the GNEP alliance. The other members in the alliance are Areva, Washington Group International and BWX. It was expected that the experience gained from the Rokkasho centrifuge enrichment plant would be a key contribution from JAEA. It was expected the consortium would propose to build fuel reprocessing and advanced fuel fabrication plants at a site in Idaho. The site selection process was canceled by the U.S. government.

GNEP logoU.S. implementation of GNEP has turned into a white dwarf compared to its red giant ambitions when first announced by the Bush Administration. A programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) punts future decisions about the program into the next administration. Congress shredded GNEP budget requests over the past three years expressing strong doubts about the Department of Energy's plans for fast-tracing the program.

Securing uranium supplies

In a separate development Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has set up a panel to secure stable supplies of uranium and boost the competitiveness of the nation's nuclear power industry.

UraniumSymbol_000The panel brings together academics and officials from businesses including nuclear power plant makers such as Toshiba Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

The strategies include development of uranium resources, support for countries that plan to introduce nuclear power plants, and stronger ties with countries with advanced nuclear power technologies.

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