Saturday, May 28, 2011

More from The Thorium Alliance Conference

There were a number of other interesting presentations at the Third Thorium Energy Alliance Conference. In particular Edward Kee and Colonel Paul E. Roege offered what amounted too complimentary talks.

Edward Kee offered a talk titled, Global Nuclear Power Developments - Asia Leads The Way. Kee noted
Big stories here:
•China’s nuclear build programme is huge – has the potential to shape world nuclear industry for many decades
•Russia internal build of VVER designs will build credibility for export market
•India’s potential buy of imported LWR designs may change the competitive picture, if EPR, ESBWR, or ABWR (or all of these) get orders
•As new nuclear countries make selections, the aggregate world league table will be important
– countries will look for proven designs with real experience and low costs
– will seek a range of support from vendors (government vendors have edge)
Kee also noted that South Korea, China and India were all planning to sell reactors on the global market. Asian reactors cost less than European or American reactors with the Korean APR-1400 costing only 40% of the cost of the French EPR.

Kee notede the effects of the learning curve on reactor costs.
As more units are built, the costs will be lower (some data show that the 5th or 6th unit of a kind are 40% less expensive than the first unit). As many units are built, the low costs become more certain and buyers will face lower project risk.
Reactor users are often reluctant to be the first purchaser of a new reactor design, because it will typically be the most expensive, and carries the greatest perceived risk. Kee stated,
When buyers share (or take) the risk of early unit costs and delays, shouldn’t these buyers also share some of the upside in future units?

Hard to do this in a commercial arrangement.

The difficulty is also convincing a buyer to be a first mover, taking high costs and risks for early units, when the learning from these early units may well benefit other buyers who move later (or perhaps vendors who keep prices higher).

However, when the units are all in one government build programme, the learning curve benefits and capability building may be more fully captured.

Investing in FOAK units provides benefits in lower costs for the fleet build.

The earlier French nuclear build programme is a model for the current government nuclear build strategy.

This is the capacity (in MWe) of new LWR nuclear plants that were placed into commercial operation in France from 1958 to 2002.

The French linked the nuclear power plant build programme to an internal nuclear industrial development strategy.
Kee noted the problems of the American nuclear industry. Lower demand leads to greater risk and higher costs, which in turn leads to lower demand, and suggests that the solution is to be found in Government involvement in nuclear fleet construction.
When a government is able to build its own integrated nuclear supply industry around a government-ordered large nuclear fleet build, it is possible to achieve significant cost reductions. Also possible are reductions in risk and in schedule, as the integrated supply chain is managed as a single economic entity.
Kee, who is known to be researching the effects of small modular reactors (SMRs) on the nuclear market dod not offer observations on that topic.

Colonel Paul E. Roege of the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center offered an interesting analysis of the logistic problems confronting the modern U.S. Army and the potential economic benefits of SMRs.
Energy alternatives to produce 50 MW of power in theater
• 3600 gal/hr diesel fuel
• 5 million sq ft of solar array (~100 acres)
• 35t/hr biomass (switchgrass)
• 50 t nuclear reactor
Clearly the Army is interested in the Nuclear choice. Roege pointed some economic advantages of SMRs,
* Total project cost
␣ Smaller plants should be cheaper
␣ Improves financing options and lowers financing cost ␣ May be the driving consideration in some circumstances
* Cost of electricity
␣ Economy-of-scale (EOS) works against smaller plants but can be mitigated by other
economic factors
␣ Accelerated learning, shared infrastructure, design simplification, modular, factory producible,
␣ Cost/KWH- ~ 30-50% less
* Investment risk
␣ Maximum cash outlay is lower and more predictable
␣ Maximum cash outlay can be lower even for the same generating capacity
* Operational Flexibility
␣ Site Selection
␣ Load Demand
␣ Grid Stability
␣ Demand Growth
At the moment, according to Col Roege there are too many competing SMR designs, and many other obstacles to the emergence of of commercial SMRs, but the DoD could emerge as a leader in SMR development. There are clearly national security issues in play, both in terms of energy input into military operations, and in terms of the economic implications of energy technology.

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