March 27, 2012

Nuclear Energy - Bill Gates

Published on Tuesday March 27 2012 (AEST)
Bill Gates Sees Future in Nuclear Energy

Bill Gates says he in investing in Generation IV nuclear power plants through Terra Power, which he says would be safer and more efficient than modern nuclear reactors. The first of such plants could come online in 2022 he tells WSJ's Alan Murray at the 2012 ECO:nomics conference.

March 22, 2012

Global Uranium Demand Expected To Unprecedented Levels

Published on Thursday March 22 2012 (AEST)

GROWING use of nuclear fuel for power generation in countries like China will push up global uranium demand by 42 per cent between next year and 2017, according to the Bureau of Resources & Energy Economics

This is despite the current drop in demand caused by plant closures in Germany and temporary mothballing of plants in Japan after the Fukushima disaster.

BREE forecasts a global price of about $US53 a pound in 2012, a drop of 7 per cent on the 2011 average price, but in line with where it spent the second half of the year.

It says China's consumption of uranium is likely to triple between 2011 and 2017 to about 15,500 tonnes a year as reactor numbers rise from 16 to 60. China's 44 new reactors compare with 49 Japanese reactors that have been temporarily closed for safety inspections. Global demand will jump about 7 per cent a year from 77,000 tonnes in 2012 to about 110,000 tonnes by 2017, it predicts.

By comparison BREE expects Australian production to climb by about 12 per cent a year between now and 2017, even before completion of the Olympic Dam expansion. The biggest jump in supply is expected to come from Australia and Southern Africa.

Rio Tinto's Rossing mine in Namibia is expected to lift output by 4 per cent this year to 10,700 tonnes after grade troubles pushed 2011 production down 2 per cent.

The bureau expects Australian production to rise from about 7100 tonnes a year to about 13,500 tonnes in 2016-17, thanks mainly to the ramp-up of new mines such as BHP Billiton's Yeelirrie operation, expected to produce 3500 tonnes of U3O8 a year. The list includes Uranium One's Honeymoon mine, still in startup phase, and in the future Toro Energy's Wiluna operation, Energy & Metals Australia's Mulga Rock operation, Mega Uranium's Lake Maitland mine, and Energy Metals' Bigrlyi mine in the Northern Territory.

BREE does not expect to see a sharp rise in the global uranium price until 2015, but projects prices close to $100 a pound between now and 2015, rising to $124 in 2016 and $141.6 in 2017, in constant 2011-12 Australian dollars.

It notes that a drying up of supply from defunct nuclear warheads and nuclear waste ("secondary sources") will be part of the overall global picture in the next few years, while "strong consumption growth from a large number of new reactors starting up, particularly in China, India and the Russian Federation", will be the main drivers of price rises.

March 20, 2012

China Moves Forward Its Quest For Nuclear Power

Published on Tuesday March 20 2012 (AEST)

China's surging economy runs mostly on coal, which slakes four-fifths of the country's thirst for electricity. And all over China, the consequences of that dependence are apparent: Its major cities are swathed in deadly smog, regional blackouts ensue when coal trains bog down on clogged rail networks, and coal mining routinely kills more than 2000 people a year. China desperately needs alternatives to coal-fired power.

So Beijing has launched an aggressive plan to decarbonize China's economy by pushing nuclear and renewable energy to 15 percent of energy consumption by 2020, up from 9.5 percent last year. Nuclear generating capacity would rise to over 80 gigawatts from the 11.3 GW currently in place. As a result, analysts expect China to meet its environmental goal for 2020: to reduce carbon emissions per yuan of economic output by 40 percent compared with 2005 levels.

To meet its nuclear numbers, China has embarked on the world's biggest reactor building program. Beijing has standardized its nuclear juggernaut around two pressurized water reactor designs: the Chinese/French CPR-1000, designed in the 1990s, and Westinghouse Electric's AP1000, designed in the 2000s. The country is turning both types out at high speed. According to the World Nuclear Association, 14 reactors were operating as of September, and 26 more were under construction. China's Ministry of Environmental Protection has said that 100 reactors may be feeding the grid by 2020. "They are not just building nuclear power plants. They are building an entire industry," says Chi-Jen Yang, a technology policy expert at Duke University's Center on Global Change.

Nevertheless, the Fukushima disaster has highlighted the risks of the nation's aggressive nuclear build-out. In Fukushima's wake Chinese leaders put new reactor projects on hold while they reviewed the safety of existing ones. Officials concerned by a potential shortfall of trained reactor operators and inspectors suggested trimming China's 2020 goal for more than 80 GW nuclear capacity by 10 GW or so. Experts also worry that corrupt management of the build-out could affect the safety of China's reactors. As Yang puts it: "If everything is done well, the risks should be low. But we don't know if everything is done correctly."

China may well resume all of its planned projects once the post-Fukushima reviews are complete. But Yang says that safety concerns may cause China to focus its efforts on the Westinghouse AP1000 instead of the CPR-1000. Modest cost made the CPR-1000 attractive, but like Fukushima's second-generation reactors, its emergency cooling systems require electricity. The third-generation AP1000 reactor, in contrast, has a passive cooling system: water stored atop the plant's pressure vessel, ready to be gravity-fed to the reactor core below.

Meanwhile China's state-owned utilities have raced far ahead of Beijing's official goals for renewable energy. More than 40 GW of wind power was installed by the end of 2010, smashing the 5 GW target set by Beijing three years earlier.

China's investments could transform the country by midcentury. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report projects that China could install as much as 550 GW of nuclear capacity and 970 GW of wind, hydro, and solar power by 2050. Combined with energy efficiency upgrades, that surge of low-carbon electricity would slash China's annual CO2 emissions from power generation to nearly one-fifth their current level.

Yang sees a possibility that China's central planners could build enough momentum within a decade to leave the United States behind if Washington doesn't adopt carbon-reduction measures to drive its economy off coal. "If the U.S. policymakers continue to postpone," says Yang, "the U.S. may someday find itself unable to catch up."

March 13, 2012

China Plans To Import More Uranium

Published on Tuesday March 13 2012 (AEST)

China plans to import more uranium this year than last year and to buy uranium mines abroad, looking particularly toward Canada for that purpose, said Qian Zhiming, deputy director of the National Energy Administration.

Qian also said China might resume undertaking nuclear projects this year, in the first half of the year at the earliest. He said the Chinese government has finished drafting the nuclear safety guidelines that it began working on after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan a year ago, crippling the country's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Even though that disaster prompted the country to halt any work being undertaken on new nuclear projects, China imported 16,126 tons of uranium in 2011, not much less than the 17,135 tons it had imported in 2010, according to the General Administration of Customs.

Qian said the import amount will remain the same as last year, or even be increased, in 2012.

The soonest that resumption of nuclear projects will happen, Qian said, is in the first half of the year.

Wang Binghua, chairman of State Nuclear Power Technology Corp, said last Saturday at a news briefing that China will resume approving and building new nuclear projects in 2012. The government also has completed a safety inspection that revealed 14 nuclear safety issues that should be remedied.

Following the nuclear leak that struck Japan last year, the Chinese government announced it would temporarily cease approving nuclear power stations. Around the same time, it began to conduct safety checks at both existing nuclear plants and those that were under construction.

Because of those decisions, no new nuclear project was either approved or started in China last year.

Premier Wen Jiabao, in an annual government work report delivered on March 5, said China will "develop nuclear power in a safe and efficient way" this year, saying the country will "prohibit blind expansion in the new-energy industries of solar and wind power".

In December, new nuclear safety guidelines for China were submitted to the State Council. Officials are still drafting guidelines for developing nuclear power in the mid- and long-term.

China began operating its first commercial nuclear plant in 1994. The country, which has 15 nuclear reactors, is now building at least 25 reactors and has 50 more planned, according to the China Nuclear Energy Association.

2012 Chinese Uranium Imports

The prospect that nuclear projects will be started again this year is not the only reason behind China's prediction that it will import more uranium in 2012.

Another is the likelihood that "a few overseas mines will start production this year," according to Xiao Xinjian, industry expert at the Energy Research Institute, which is affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission.

Of all the countries that supply uranium to China, the top four exporters are Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Namibia and Australia. They contributed more than 95 percent of China's imports of that element last year.

During Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper's recent official visit to China, China and Canada agreed to cooperate more on the trade of uranium.

China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group Co has offered to buy 261.9 million shares from Kalahari Minerals Plc, a global resource company owning uranium and gold reserves. The deal, which concerns 98 percent of the ownership of Kalahari Minerals, was approved in February.

China can produce 850 tons of uranium a year, an amount expected to increase to 2,500 tons in the future, according to Ux Consulting, a researcher that looks mainly at uranium.

New Uranium Molecule Developed By Scientists To Clean Nuclear Waste

Published on Tuesday March 13 2012 (AEST)
A new uranium molecule developed by scientists from the University of Edinburgh can literally clean the waste that nuclear power plants leave behind.

The researchers found out that the molecule may be involved in forming clusters of radioactive material in waste that are difficult to separate during the cleanup process.

The new discovery could lead the nuclear industry clean up its image, as the announcement came at precisely a year after the Fukushima events that lead to one of the worst disasters in history.

The new uranium compound, also studied by US and Canadian scientists, was produced by reacting a common uranium compound with a nitrogen and carbon-based material. The resulted structure had a butterfly shape and the funny thing is that theory says it should not exist.

“We have made a molecule that, in theory, should not exist, because its bridge-shaped structure suggests it would quickly react with other chemicals. This discovery that this particular form of uranium is so stable could help optimise processes to recycle valuable radioactive materials and so help manage the UK’s nuclear legacy,” says Professor Polly Arnold of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry.

Nuclear power is maybe the only alternative energy resource that needs to be carefully taken care of – it can become so destructive and yet so clean. Maybe this is the trade-off when using something so powerful in a so sensitive environment.