January 6, 2024
József Kóbor dr.
Pécs City Council, Hungary, European Committee of the Regions, NTW
Undoubtedly, it borders on the absurd that at the largest world environmental congress in 2023, COP28, the biggest appearance was presented by the Russian state nuclear giant ROSATOM. It is even more absurd when you consider that this company is theoretically being boycotted by the so-called “democratic world” due to Russia’s war against Ukraine. Or maybe not .
The Small Modular Reactors (SMR) have become so important for both Rosatom and the entire world that the Russian state-owned company recently dedicated a day to them at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai – an SMR day. In addition, Rosatom conducts negotiations, concludes agreements, develops projects and prepares documentation related to the construction of small power reactors. Nuclear experts from other countries will also be familiarized with small power plants and their operating characteristics.
SMR Day was one of the most important events in Rosatom’s COP28 program. The event began with a vivid multimedia presentation covering the construction of a small, powerful onshore nuclear power plant in Yakutia that will be “carefully” integrated into the Arctic ecosystem.
Guests were able to virtually explore the Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant, which supplies electrical energy and heat to the town of Pevek on the Chukchi Peninsula, Russia’s northernmost city. “I am sure that Rosatom’s small powerful nuclear power plants represent an efficient and environmentally friendly choice for countries that, for various reasons, have not previously thought about their own nuclear energy production,” said Alexey Likhachev, the general director of Rosatom, in his video message to the Participants of the SMR day. The Russian small, powerful nuclear power plants are also interesting for other countries.”
The parties will examine the possibilities and study the location of the mainland SMR, the configuration of the power plant and the infrastructure required for construction and operation, and select the optimal implementation model for the project.
Hearing all this, an expert who has worked in the nuclear industry for decades remembers the old joke: For a newborn, every joke is new. Because what ROSATOM has presented here on the subject of SMR is a story from over 60 years ago that could only have been something new for the “newborn” and laypeople. The IAEA had been trying to “sell” this to the public since 1960. It is the civilian application of these small nuclear reactors developed by the nuclear powers to power their strategic nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. (Also for icebreaking ships of the Soviet Union or Russia, this can be described as civilian use).
In reality, every previous project that has attempted to use SMRs for civilian economic purposes – where profitability, economy and the promised low operating costs mattered – has failed. The nuclear reactor was dismantled from the USA’s only nuclear-powered cargo ship 50 years ago and converted to diesel. Canadian nuclear heating plants were converted to gas and oil. Nothing came of the planned nuclear-powered locomotives, trucks, heavy commercial vehicles, seawater desalination plants, electrolysis plants and industrial heat generation units. Although a nuclear company came forward with such plans at least once every 10 years, they were never accepted by the business community.
So there is currently the lavishly presented Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant, whose towing through the Baltic Sea has sparked international protests – the others only belong to the category of visions, as was the case with the earlier ones.
IAEA also dreams – and unfortunately, EU plays with it
The IAEA published a report ahead of the COP28 conference entitled “Nuclear Technology Review – 2023”, which presents the main events and trends of 2022 and is considered by the agency’s experts as a pathfinder for the future development of the global nuclear industry.
We focus on the most significant and interesting ones.
Increase in nuclear capacity
The IAEA has increased its forecast for the development of the global nuclear industry in the last two years. According to the optimistic forecast, the installed capacity of nuclear power plants worldwide could reach 873 GW by 2050. This would be 10 percent higher than last year’s forecast. This could increase the share of nuclear energy in the global energy basket from the current 9.8 percent to 14 percent. (This was roughly the case before the Chernobyl meltdown .) Realizing this forecast will require a major shift to long-term operation, which means extending the life of existing reactors and building about 600 GW of new nuclear production capacity over the next 30 years.
It is quite shocking that the UN organization, whose main task should be the protection of nuclear safety, supports the systematic extension of the operational life of old, expired nuclear reactors, which obviously means an increase in risk and, incidentally, contradicts the previous principles of the IAEA!
And of course, Rosatom contributes significantly to achieving this goal. The state-owned company is building 22 power plant blocks in seven countries. The project portfolio includes a total of 33 units in 10 countries. The state-owned company has built 18 high-performance units in 18 years, nine of which were outside Russia. This year, fuel was delivered to the Akkuyu nuclear power plant under construction in Turkey and the Ruppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh.
It is interesting that the IAEA does not say a word about the Belarusian Astravets nuclear power plant, which is also in operation – perhaps not by chance, as there are serious technical problems with the new VVER-2000 reactors. These reactors are also to be taken over by the Hungarian Paks2 project.
Difficulties in financing nuclear projects are hindering the construction of new nuclear capacity, study finds. However, there are “positive” developments, with nuclear energy being included in the sustainable finance taxonomy of the European Union and other countries in 2022.
What is taxonomy? Taxonomy is a tax system, which in this case means that nuclear energy and natural gas are considered “green” to enable the complete phase-out of coal and oil while meeting carbon emissions reduction targets. This would be the basis for the EU program to develop a green economy, the Green Deal. Behind this was a formal nuclear coalition: France under Macron, Hungary under Orbán, the Czech Republic, Poland – but above all Russia under Putin, for which both nuclear energy and gas would have been huge business.
Of course many people protested against it. Greens, professional associations. I – as a Hungarian city council member, member of the European Committee of the Regions and member of Nuclear Transparency Watch (NTW) – presented the case for plenary debate in December 2021. The European Parliament rejected the taxonomy. Nevertheless, the European Commission pushed through the taxonomy on December 31, 2021, on New Year’s Eve (!!). At this point, Russian tanks were already massing on the Ukrainian border. Everyone knows what happened next.
Small nuclear power plants
A current trend identified by the IAEA is interest in small-scale nuclear energy production. “Small nuclear power plants, along with high-performance water-cooled reactors, are expected to account for the majority of capacity additions over the next three decades,” the report says. of course in cooperation with the promotion of Rosatom projects..
Rosatom has commissioned the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, the Lomonosov Academic Floating Power Plant, and has begun implementing three more small floating nuclear power plant projects. The first four floating nuclear power plants provide power to the Baimsky Mining and Processing Complex. The second will be a small mainland nuclear power plant in Yakutia.
In addition, Rosatom is working on the construction of a small-scale nuclear power plant based on the Shelf-M reactor to supply energy to the Sovetskaya Gavan and neighboring areas. In total, Rosatom has about a dozen plans for the development of small nuclear power plants at various stages of development. Rosatom is actively negotiating with various governments, particularly Mongolia and Myanmar, to build small nuclear power plants.
The report states that modernized versions of water-cooled reactors are increasingly being considered, studied and built to gradually become modern, more efficient, semi-closed or “closed” ! Introduce fuel cycles. (A closed fuel cycle without waste production does not exist!)
“In the Russian Federation, conceptual research is underway on innovative water-moderated reactors with supercritical coolant parameters, including fast neutronic applications. The latest developments focus on small modular variants with an emphasis on improved nuclear safety, nuclear protective equipment, economic efficiency and sustainability parameters.” In addition, the development of Rosatom’s spectrally controlled VVER-S reactor is at an advanced stage. Among the promising technologies are also called salt bath reactors.”
Rosatom is also developing in this area, but not for energy purposes. The aim of the research is to test the transmutation of minor actinides in order to produce lower-activity fissile substances. This salt bath reactor is scheduled to be commissioned in 2030.
Note: not lower-activity, but perhaps shorter-lived isotopes (and not fissile material, but waste) can be produced with transmutation, but only with very poor efficiency.
“The report devotes a separate chapter to fast neutronic reactors.”
There are five fast neutron-cooled sodium reactors worldwide. One in China, one in India and three in Russia. Rosatom also plans to build the BN-1200 fast neutron reactor with 1200 MW of electrical power. According to plans, the first concrete for the BN-1200 will be poured into the block body in 2027.
“Technologies that use liquid metal coolants are receiving increasing attention. Rosatom is a leader here and is the first in the world to build the BREST OD-300 experimental demonstration reactor with 300 MW of electrical power.”
The characteristic feature of fast neutron technology is that the reactors operate at high temperatures in the strained operating mode with a high risk. Cooling with liquid metals. Most importantly, they produce plutonium, suitable for both nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel. Precisely for this reason they were not encouraged and even banned from spreading. Previous attempts in Germany, France, Sweden and even Czechoslovakia and Romania (!!) failed. It is truly shocking that this technology, which is extremely dangerous from a safety perspective, is now being promoted again.
The other applications of atomic energy
As mentioned in the report, the greatest interest in the non-electricity applications of reactor technologies is heat generation – alone or in conjunction with electricity (district heating and heat supply for industrial enterprises), seawater desalination and hydrogen production. Rosatom also deals with these areas and carries out developments. The Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant in Chukotka also supplies heat to the town of Pevek.
“A desalination plant designed and installed by Rosatom will be installed at the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant to serve the reactors and to meet the needs of drinking and fire-fighting water.”
The commissioning of an experimental plant for hydrogen production through electrolysis is planned at the Kola nuclear power plant. In addition, Rosatom is developing a project for a plant with an annual hydrogen production capacity of about 110,000 tons, using a 200 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor and chemical technology. The first unit is expected to be operational in 2032.
NAÜ experts – citing global forecasts – estimate that demand for uranium will rise from about 160 million pounds of uranium oxide annually to about 190 million pounds over the next five years. “Due to the expected further increase in spot prices for the uranium market, the procurement departments of nuclear power plants are expected to give preference to the early acquisition of uranium ore concentrate and again enter into long-term contracts with uranium suppliers. This could lead to a further increase in the immediate price of uranium, which is forecast to rise to $65/ton by 2027, compared to the previous price of $52/ton – the report said. Reality is already exceeding expectations: on December 4, 2023, the spot price for uranium was $81.45/pound.
“New uranium mines are expected to open in the next five to 10 years, including in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mauritania and Namibia. “
And not just there. In Europe we know of at least ten new uranium mining projects. In southwest Hungary, uranium mining near the city of Pécs is to be reopened; in Germany there is the former Wismut project in the Elbe valley.
However, the planned production capacity of these new facilities will not be sufficient to meet the current shortage of supply, which is currently being met from secondary sources. In this regard, uranium exploration is expected to increase in the coming years, including both conventional and non-conventional sites,” state NAÜ experts.
“Rosatom is also developing sites and conducting exploration work in Russia and Kazakhstan and launching projects in Tanzania and Namibia.” (And in Hungary!)
József Kóbor dr.
Pécs City Council, Hungary, European Committee of the Regions, NTW
Link to the article in other languages: https://www.donauregion-atomkraftfrei.at/beitraege-ungarn/