Speeding up plant construction is the key to avoiding brownouts
Between 2017 and 2025 the U.K. will close ten aging nuclear power plants, a third of its total capacity, opening a major gap in electricity generation supply. Even with the country’s aggressive plans to build new reactors, the first units won’t enter revenue service until 2017. The government and some of the largest power companies in the world, are now working on a plan to accelerate the construction schedule to keep the lights from going out in the British Isles.
According to a report in the Times of London, the government’s plans for modular construction of large pieces of nuclear power plants could chop as much as 18 months off completion time for new nuclear plants in the U.K. The plan, if implemented, would involve development of massive new manufacturing capabilities perhaps rivaling that of Japan Steel Works.
Building reactors is a lengthy and complex process, but, because the proposed designs from Areva and Westinghouse have never been used in the UK before, a detailed safety review has to be completed before construction starts up. The government believes that by adding resources to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), it could cut bureaucratic red tape and time to complete the reviews.
Another strategy under consideration is to rely on reactor design certification and safety analyses conducted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the reactor safety agencies of other nations. Instead of a soup-to-nuts analysis a “peer review” would take into account the safety analysis work already done in the U.S. and France. It isn’t clear whether that option will be adopted, but the government said a series of “reforms” of NII would be proposed next month.
Parts are us
Senior executives at EDF, including Bill Coley, CEO of British Energy, now its UK subsidiary, have said that adoption of a modular approach to plant construction could cut the time needed to build each reactor from five to three-and-a-half years.
Rather than conventional on-site construction, the proposal would involve prefabricating large pieces of the reactors, each of which are expected to cost about £5 billion at an indoor location, then floating them into place on giant barges. The concept is considered feasible because the proposed sites for the new stations are at river or shoreline locations. It is likely a manufacturing facility of this size would include the capability to forge the largest components for new reactors.
EDF plans to follow the American example. In the U.S. all three new nuclear component manufacturing sites are at river locations. The Areva-Northrop Grumman site is on the James River in Virginia, Westinghouse-Shaw had a similar site on the Mississippi River in Louisiana, and McDermott-BWXT has a site in Indiana on the Ohio River.
Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK, the German company that is also planning jointly to build at least four nuclear reactors in the UK, told The Times that use of modular construction could significantly “compress the timeframes”, although he emphasized that it would still be impossible to complete any reactors in Britain before 2015.
EDF said modular construction offered potential benefits but added that there were also practical problems, including the need for large areas to lay down equipment and good access roads and ports close to proposed sites.
E.ON and RWE join forces for U.K. nuclear build
The Guardian reports that two of the biggest gas and electricity providers in Britain have joined forces in a bid to build three nuclear plants in the U.K. E.ON and RWE, both German-owned, said their 50:50 partnership aimed to build and operate 6,000 MWe of new generating capacity on sites that are being sold off by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
The move is in competition with and follows the final agreement on the £12.5bn EDF takeover of British Energy which gave new impetus to the French utility's determination to participate in the U.K. new nuclear build.
The two German companies said that their partnership gave them the "financial stability and balance sheet strength" need to carry out the work. Industry experts said it also is a signal the Germans will be the main competitors to the French for new reactor market share in the U.K.
E.ON and RWE have stakes in 20 nuclear power stations around the world. They already jointly own three nuclear reactors in Germany.
Spanish nuclear firm eyes UK nuclear market
Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, which owns Scottish Power, is said to be poised to enter the UK's rapidly expanding nuclear market. It is likely that Iberdrola will negotiate with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) for potential sites.
A decision on how it intends to become a major nuclear player in the UK will be made "in weeks." A spokesman said, "We are looking at all the options. We want to be a player in the UK nuclear energy market."
Iberdrola owns six nuclear plants in Spain and has its own nuclear building company, Iberinco. Westinghouse supplied the reactors for the Spanish plants.
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