PARIS – On the windswept coast of Flamanville, an industrial city in northwest France facing the choppy waters of the English Channel, a towering concrete dome houses one of the world’s most powerful nuclear reactors.
But when this gigantic giant begins to supply power to France’s electricity grid, no one guesses.
full contract construction late for schedule And 12 billion euros, or 13 billion dollars, over budget. Plans to start operations this year have been pushed back again, until 2024. And the problems at Flamanville are not unique. Finland’s newest nuclear power plant, which Work started last monthIt was supposed to be completed in 2009.
As President Vladimir Putin war in ukraine pushes Europe to Reliable cut off With regard to Russian natural gas and oil, the picture of nuclear energy is on the rise, which promises to provide reliable domestic energy and electricity.
Advocates say nuclear power could help solve Europe’s looming energy crisis, Completing a major axis which was already underway before the war to adopt solar, wind and other renewable technologies to achieve ambitious climate change goals.
“Putin’s invasion has redefined energy security considerations in Europe,” said Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency. “I expect nuclear power to decline in Europe and elsewhere as a result of energy insecurity,” he added.
But turning nuclear revival into a reality is fraught with problems.
The rush to find ready-made alternatives to Russian fuel inflated political division In Europe around nuclear energy, as a bloc of nuclear states led by France and Europe largest atomic product, pushes for promotion while Germany and other like-minded countries oppose it, citing the dangers of radioactive waste. The European Commission’s latest plan to clearly reduce dependence on Russia Leave nuclear power off the list of energy sources to be considered.
The long delays and cost overruns that have hampered the massive Flamanville-3 project, a modern pressurized water reactor designed to produce 1,600 megawatts of power, are emblematic of the broader technical, logistical and cost challenges facing expansion.
a quarter of electricity In the European Union nuclear power produced in dozens of countries comes from an old fleet built mostly in the 1980s. France, which has 56 reactors, produces more than half of the total.
A fleet of up to 13 new generation nuclear reactors planned in France, using a different design than the one at Flamanville, won’t be ready until at least 2035 – too late to make a difference in the current energy crisis.
Across the Channel, Britain recently announced ambitions for up to eight new nuclear plants, but the reality is more realistic. Five of the six existing British reactors are expected to be shut down within a decade due to age, While only one new nuclear planta long-awaited giant led by France at a cost of 20 billion pounds in Hinckley Point In the southwest of England, under construction. Its first part is expected to be commissioned in 2026.
Others researched in Eastern Europe are not expected to be online before 2030.
“Nuclear will take a long time” because projects require at least 10 years to complete, said Jonathan Stern, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Independent Institute for Energy Studies.
“The biggest problem is moving away from Russian gas, and that problem is now – not a decade later, when we may have built another generation of nuclear reactors,” he added.
Human rights advocates say nuclear power can be a solution if the political will is there.
The Government of Belgium, in agreement with the country’s Green Party, reverse resolution to phase out nuclear power by 2025 and extend the life of two reactors for another decade as Russia intensified its offensive on Ukraine last month. Energy will help Belgium avoid dependence on Russian gas as it builds renewable energy sources, including wind turbines and solar fields, to meet European climate targets by 2035.
“The invasion of Ukraine was life-changing,” Belgium’s Energy Minister Tine van der Straiten said last week, explaining the government’s shift. “We wanted to reduce our imports from Russia.”
But in Germanywhich depends more than any other European country on Russian gas and coal, the idea of using nuclear power to plug its energy crisis seems to be going nowhere.
Germany is set to shut down its last three nuclear plants by the end of the year, the final chapter in a program approved by lawmakers to phase out the country’s fleet of 17 reactors after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.
Two of Germany’s largest energy companies said they were open to delaying the shutdown to help ease the nation’s dependence on Russia. But the Greens, part of Berlin’s governing coalition, have ruled out continuing to operate them – let alone reopening three nuclear plants that closed in December.
“We have decided for reasons which I think are very good and valid that we want to get rid of them,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told parliament this month, adding that the idea of delaying Germany’s exit from nuclear power was “not a good plan.”
Even in countries where nuclear power is a valuable option, a host of obstacles lie in the way. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a research organization.
President Emmanuel Macron plans to Nuclear energy renaissance In France, we are envisioning a wave of new generation large and small atomic reactors with a starting price of 50 billion euros ($57 billion) – a staggering cost that other European countries cannot or will not afford. He acknowledged that construction will not be rapid, in part because the industry also needs to train a new generation of nuclear power engineers.
“Most governments pay and pay, and even if you start building it takes a long time,” said Mr Stern of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. “All of these other technologies are advancing rapidly and all are getting cheaper, while nuclear power is not advancing and is getting more and more expensive.”
Meanwhile, many of France’s old reactors, which were built for energy independence after the 1970s oil crisis, have been paused for safety inspections, making it difficult for French nuclear power to help fill Russia’s energy pressures, she said. Anne-Sophie Corbo of the Atomic Energy Agency. Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
“Nuclear production in France will decrease this year unless you find a magic solution, but there is no magic solution,” she said.
However, Moscow’s aggression may help reverse what has been an arc of gradual decline in the industry.
Recently there have been a series of optimistic statements. Along with Britain’s announcement this month to expand the scope of nuclear powerthe Netherlands, with one reactor, plans to build two more To supplement solar, wind and geothermal energy.
And in Eastern Europe, a number of nations under Russia were planning to build fleets of nuclear reactors — a move advocates say seems wise in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NuScale Power, an Oregon company that sells a new reactor design that it claims will be cheaper and faster to build because key components will be assembled in plants, has signed initial deals in Romania and Poland.
Tom Mundy, the company’s chief commercial officer, said the Russian invasion has boosted customers’ desire to see nuclear power as part of the overall energy mix of their portfolios.
The Romanian nuclear power company is moving ahead with both its NuScale plant and two Canadian reactors, CEO Cosmin Gaeta said, escorting a pair of nuclear facilities that generate about 20 percent of the country’s electricity.
“The Ukraine crisis has certainly shown us the need to strengthen energy security,” Mr. Guita said. “We are gaining more momentum for our projects.”
In the long run, the Russian war is likely to help the “European idea” of being more energy independent, said Mike Baker, a facilities analyst at Bernstein Research.
“This is something that nuclear power can provide,” she added.
Liz Alderman reported from Paris, and Stanley Reed from London.
26 April 2022
An earlier version of this article miscalculated how much power the Flamanville 3 nuclear plant would generate. It’s designed to generate 1,600 megawatts, not 1,600 gigawatts.