A Spring Nuclear Upheaval

From Sweden to China, the world’s nuclear sector saw an eventful spring.

Sweden to Shutter Two Ringhals Units Early. On the same day that E.ON—formerly one of Europe’s most formidable power companies—announced it would spin off its nuclear assets owing to Germany’s energy transition, its Swedish partner, Vattenfall, which is 70% co-owner of the 1975-built Ringhals 1 and 2 nuclear units (Figure 1), said it would shutter the two reactors between 2018 and 2020, instead of 2025 as initially planned. The reason: declining profitability and increased costs.

1. A foggy future. Swedish utility Vattenfall will permanently shutter the Ringhals 1 and 2 nuclear units in Sweden early in large part due to declining profitability and increased costs.  Courtesy: Vattenfall

Vattenfall executive Torbjörn Wahlborg explained in an April 28 statement that a combination of low electricity prices and soaring production costs in coming years would challenge the units’ bottom lines. “Vattenfall’s decision is business driven. It is of course regrettable to close down well-functioning production units but sometimes this is inevitable,” he said.

Vattenfall’s five other reactors, Ringhals 3 and 4, and Forsmark 1, 2, and 3 will remain open for at least 60 years of operational lifetime, until the beginning 2040s, he said.

Experts noted that the decision was likely also based on Sweden’s December decision to nearly double fees paid by utilities into the country’s nuclear waste fund over the 2015–2017 period. The fees have increased taxes on nuclear power from US$0.29/kWh in 2014 to $0.49/kWh.

More Hurdles for UK’s Nuclear Ambitions. Delays on a final decision to build two AREVA EPRs at the Hinkley Point C site have prompted EDF Energy to slash 400 jobs, reducing staff numbers to 250 onsite. Further doubt was cast on the future of the project after AREVA in April informed French regulators of “manufacturing anomalies” in components important for safety at the Flamanville EPR under construction in Normandy. Project critics point to other EPR construction concerns at Flamanville, where delays have pushed back startup by five years to 2017, and at the Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland, where construction on an EPR now lags almost a decade behind schedule.

Indian Companies, AREVA Sign Agreements for EPRs. Despite these setbacks, AREVA on April 13 signed two agreements with Indian companies in preparation for a project to build six EPR units at Jaitapur in Maharashtra State. The agreement with companies like Larsen and Toubro will prepare for the licensing of the EPR reactor design in India.

Turkey Breaks Ground on First Nuclear Plant. Turkey officially marked the launch of construction at Akkuyu, its first nuclear plant, which will feature four 1.2-GW AES-2006 VVER pressurized-water reactors. Russia’s Rosatom is building the reactors on a unique build-own-operate model. The $22 billion project is expected to be complete by 2020. In April, meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved parliament’s ratification of an agreement with Japan to build the country’s second nuclear power plant, at Sinop on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. That 4.8-GW plant will consist of four Atmea 1 reactors to be supplied by an AREVA and Mitsubishi consortium, with construction to begin in 2017.

China Greenlights Construction of Hualong One Pilots. In China, where the bulk of the world’s new nuclear plants are being built, the government on April 15 approved construction of new units using Hualong One reactor designs. The 1,100-GW, three-loop pressurized-water design is based both on China General Nuclear Power Group’s CPR-1000 and on China National Nuclear Corp.’s ACP-1000 reactor technology. The two firms have been ordered to develop the design on a 50-50 partnership basis. China’s State Council did not provide details on the chosen site or construction timelines, but experts say two possible sites are at Fangchenggang in Guanxi Province and Fuqing in Fujian Province.

Sonal Patel, associate editor