POWER Editor Gail Reitenbach interviewed King Lee of Lloyd’s Register on June 29 at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Le Bourget, France. The firm is a “non-profit distributing charity with a public benefit mandate,” which means that it is independent from shareholders, and profits are distributed to a variety of educational and other charities. Its nuclear group has provided independent, expert technical advice on safety and risk management for more than 60 years, beginning with the UK’s Calder Hall reactors in the 1950s. The UK vote to exit the European Union (EU), known as “Brexit,” had taken place the previous week. Questions and answers have been edited for length and style.
GR: What effect do you think Brexit, if it actually goes through, will have on UK nuclear plans and the European power sector generally?
KL: I think it’s too early to say whether Brexit will happen, and if it does happen, what form it will take, because the details will have to be worked out between the UK and EU countries. My personal thought at this stage is that it’s unlikely to have any real or significant impact on the UK nuclear industry and the UK civil nuclear power program.
Electricité de France (EDF) has been talking about making a decision soon on financing the Hinkley Point C project. Are you hearing anything about which way they’re leaning?
The view is that EDF’s board is supportive of the Hinkley C project in the UK, so the expectation is that the French government [which owns 85% of the company] will make its final decision [soon] by resolving any issues internally. [GR: On July 28, the EDF board approved the financing decision.]
The timeline and costs for new nuclear are clearly a huge hurdle for just about everybody, unless they’re state-supported, so what does Lloyd’s Register see as the best options for ensuring project goals?
I’m not the best person to address the financing aspect but obviously, for any major project to succeed, with huge initial capital cost—and cost of capital—impediments, it’s essential that it’s delivered to time, quality, and safety. We believe that Lloyd’s Register can play a large part in that because what we do is to ensure quality and equipment and organization conform to regulatory requirements and meet codes and standards as specified. The implication of not meeting those would be project delay and associated loss of investor confidence, and costs. When procuring equipment, developers need to ensure that the organizations in their supply chain are competent and that their products and services are delivered to the right quality, on time, and to budget. If any materials are not to specified quality, that will cause delays and increase costs.
Given that there are some new nuclear entrants that want to export their technology—I’m thinking in particular of South Korea and China—what sort of due diligence is possible for potential customers of newer players?
The nuclear industry has recently come to a new globalization. Historically, perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, most of the nuclear civil programs were national programs. Only a few countries—the U.S. or France or Russia—were exporting. But now there are increasing players exporting overseas. But also, the suppliers are exporting overseas. So now we’re seeing increasingly internationalization and globalization of the nuclear sector, so it’s important that there is absolute confidence in this international supply chain.
As Fukushima (and other nuclear accidents) showed, if there’s an accident or mishaps, it affects the whole nuclear industry, and that affects public confidence. So it’s critical that the quality and safety of the supply chain is maintained. One thing is to make sure to decide on what standard you aim to achieve. From a nuclear safety point of view, the benchmark would be in accordance with International Atomic Energy Agency safety requirements, and then throughout your program, ensuring that due diligence is being done by a competent body.
I know you’re also involved with decomissioning projects. Are there any unanticipated issues that you’re seeing?
A number of countries have made policy decisions to shut down certain reactors. In terms of decommissioning, I don’t see it as a huge technical issue as long as sufficient financial provisions have been made by the country to carry out that task.
A more important issue to deal with is waste management. It’s not taking apart the nuclear reactor but what you decide to do with the waste. Some of the waste will be nonradioactive and can be disposed in a normal way, but some of the waste will be radioactive—in different levels—and has to be contained safely in its own containers. Then you have to store that, in an interim way, and then decide where to store it for the long term.
The UK has some of the oldest reactors and is dealing with this issue. What is your country doing with its radioactive materials from dismantling?
The real problem for most countries is a long-term repository for high-level waste. The UK are investigating sites, though no site has been chosen yet, and are determining the generic design of such a site. ■
—King Lee ([email protected]) is head of nuclear at Lloyd’s Register.