The future of nuclear power

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The Olkiluoto 3 project remains over-budget and behind schedule. Credit: Public Domain. Nuclear power is increasing the world over, with International Energy Agency (IEA) figures showing global energy generation from nuclear sites grew 3.5% in 2021 compared with 2020 levels, recovering from a drop of almost 4% seen as a […]

Nuclear power is increasing the world over, with International Energy Agency (IEA) figures showing global energy generation from nuclear sites grew 3.5% in 2021 compared with 2020 levels, recovering from a drop of almost 4% seen as a result of the pandemic. Yet the IEA has also said that current levels are not on track to help reach global decarbonisation targets, and that a doubling in annual capacity will be needed if this goal is to be achieved.

While there has been recent debate over just how green nuclear power is, several nations have already made it a key part of their future energy landscape, with the World Nuclear Association estimating that there are 55 new nuclear reactors under construction around the world. While the majority are planned in Asian countries, nations on almost every continent have such sites in the pipeline, with a total capacity of about 100GW on the horizon for nuclear power projects.

So what are some of the sites set to come online in the next few years? We take a look.

Finland, Olkiluoto 3 (2022)

Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor (OL3), a European pressurised water reactor, marks the first newly-commissioned nuclear plant that the nation has seen in over 40 years. The much-delayed unit commenced critical functions in December last year, with complete integration to the national grid anticipated at the end of this month – though updates on an exact start date have not yet been confirmed.

The project was initially scheduled to open in 2009, however technical difficulties saw continued delays and a loss of around $2.8bn, with commissioning finally confirmed in 2014.

According to the site’s operator, Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), OL3 is “Finland’s greatest climate act”, using lessons from French and German plants N4 and Konvoi to ensure maximum safety and reliability. Once fully operational, the unit will meet 14% of the country’s electricity demand, with a net electrical output of around 1,600MW.

The site joins the OL1 and OL2 units, located at the western side of Olkiluoto island, with combined capacity from the three units contributing 30% of Finland’s electricity generation.

Nuclear power makes up a significant portion of Finland’s energy mix, with GlobalData estimates showing that consumption has increased by an average of 2.6% per year over the past decade, rising to reach 103.3TWh in 2020. As the majority of Finland’s nuclear power has to be imported, the successful establishment of OL3 is hoped to drive domestic value and improve the nation’s energy security.

Argentina, Carem (2023)

The Central Argentina de Elementos Modulares (CAREM) project is Argentina’s first domestically-designed and developed nuclear power unit, with around 70% of components sourced from local manufacturers. The prototype unit is expected to have an initial output of 25MW, expected to be followed by a larger version, 100MWe or possibly 200MWe, in the northern Formosa province.

Total cost for the project is estimated at $446m (ARS3.5bn).

First concrete was poured for the unit in 2014, however the project was plagued with delays due to breach of contract, late payments and changes to the design. Continuation of construction was announced in April 2020, and the contract for completion of the reactor signed in July 2021.

The unit is a simplified pressurised water reactor, designed by the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA). Through integrating the unit’s coolant system inside the reactor vessel, the design is intended to reduce loss-of-coolant accidents and also means that no pumps are required in the unit, allowing further safety protection against core meltdown. Currently, Argentina has three nuclear reactors generating about 5% of its electricity. Alongside CAREM, CNEA has plans to build a 100MWe CAREM reactor near Formosa in Argentina and a larger 300MWe version intended for export.

Iran, Bushehr 2 (2024)

The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is Iran’s first commercial nuclear reactor. An agreement between Tehran and Moscow to build the 1,000MWe light-water reactor was initially signed in 1994; however, political upheaval due to the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war caused the nation to suspend construction. German company Siemens, which had initially agreed to build two reactors for the project, also pulled out due to political pressure from the US.

After this period of turmoil, Russian state corporation Rosatom took over from Siemens and completed construction of one reactor in 2012, with two additional units contracted in 2014 with an anticipated completion date of 2024.

The two VVER-1000 units will be built with Generation III+ technology, including the latest safety features, and have a combined capacity of 2100MWe. According to estimates from the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, nuclear power will provide between 8%-10% of the country’s electricity once these units come online.

The cost for the project is estimated at around $10bn.

Russia, BREST-OD-300 (2026)

Construction of Rosatom’s 300MW nuclear power unit began in June last year in Seversk, Russia’s Tomsk region. According to the oil major, the site will be an industry game changer in its ability to recycle its own waste.

The unit will use a mixed uranium-plutonium nitride fuel and will incorporate a lead-cooled fast neutron reactor – known as the Brest-OD-300. Once complete, the project is hoped to demonstrate a closed fuel cycle with a fast neutron reactor, fuel fabrication, and recycling facility contained within a single site. As such, it is hoped to answer the continued question of what to do with spent nuclear fuel.

At the start of construction, Mikhail Kovalchuk, president of National Research Centre the Kurchatov Institute, said that the project would bring nuclear power “to a new level”.

At the groundbreaking ceremony Alexey Likhachev, director general of Rosatom, said: “The successful implementation of this project will allow our country to become the world’s first owner of nuclear power technology that fully meets the principles of sustainable development in terms of environment, accessibility, reliability, and efficient use of resources.”

The BREST-OD-300 reactor is anticipated to commence operations in 2026, with the fuel production facility to be built by next year and construction of an irradiated fuel reprocessing module scheduled to start in 2024.

The entire complex is being built as part of Rosatom’s “Breakthrough” project, which was established to accelerate nuclear energy in the country and develop technological solutions for its deployment.

UK, Hinkley Point C2 (2027)

EDF’s Hinkley Point C is the first new nuclear power station built in Britain in over two decades, and has been heralded by the energy major as a “significant milestone in the revitalisation of [the] nuclear power industry”.

Plans for the site were announced more than 10 years ago, receiving government approval in 2016.

While original estimates for the station’s cost were around £18bn in 2016, continued revisions have seen this figure increasing. Estimates from January 2021 showed the expected build cost was now at £22bn–£23bn, to be paid over a 35-year period.

The site will consist of two units, anticipated to provide enough electricity to meet the demands of six million homes in the country, with the twin units expected to generate 3,260MW of electricity for a lifespan of 60 years. The project is also hoped to provide a major contribution to the UK’s emission reduction strategies, with EDF estimating that the site will offset nine million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

Hinkley Point A ceased producing electricity in 2000, while Hinkley Point B will be decommissioned no later than July 2022, having reached its end of life.

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