Turning to nuclear amid a raging energy crisis

– New Eastern Perspectives

THE energy crisis may be the worst since 1973, when Arab countries imposed an oil embargo, protesting Western support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Combined with a pandemic with new strains of Covid and the threat of a relapse, this is a mortal blow to economies and industries around the world. Bloomberg is sounding the alarm: the problems linked to the galloping price of natural gas can cause enormous damage to industrial production in the European Union. Gas prices have risen by 800% in one year and electricity by 500%. The next step is to increase the cost of metals and food. The Russian Federation cannot supply more hydrocarbons than it currently does due to the genuinely masochistic position of the EU – mainly due to the limits of the third energy package and the delay in the certification of the main gas pipeline North stream 2.

Even countries like the UK, Germany and France have been affected by the energy crisis. However, the latter seems to have been fed to 70% by a solid network of nuclear power plants. However, in recent years, France’s European partners, particularly Germany, have pressured Paris to abandon what they have called obsolete, expensive and dangerous nuclear power. As a result, in 2015 the French parliament adopted a law on “green development” and the reduction of the share of nuclear energy in the energy mix from 70% to 50% by 2025. In early 2022, a significant reduction of nuclear power generation in this country is expected. A third of all reactors – 15 of the 56 units of the nuclear power plant – will be cut, increasing the dependence of the French economy and social sphere on traditional energy sources such as oil, natural gas and coal. Under intense pressure from the European ‘green lobby’, in recent years France has renounced its ‘nuclear’ positions at various EU sites under assault from the German-led ‘anti-atomic’ bloc, l Austria and Luxembourg. Because of this policy, no new nuclear reactor has been commissioned in France in the 21st century. Most of the existing French nuclear power plants were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Initially planned to last between 30 and 40 years, it has already been extended twice for 10 years. Sooner or later, the entire nuclear fleet will have to be shut down and there will be no replacement capacity in France. Moreover, even the French media are forced to admit that the French have forgotten how to build new capacities without defects and without exceeding deadlines and estimates. During the last nuclear power plant project in France, two units of the Flamanville nuclear power plant were commissioned, including one under construction which suffered serious accidents.

The situation is even more difficult in Germany because in an effort to promote green energy, the federal government has decided to close half of Germany’s nuclear power plants before the end of 2022, forcing Germany to become even more dependent on fuel. Russian blue (Berlin is also reducing coal production).

These reasons require adjustments in the policies of the European Union and many other regions of the world. In this context, more than a third of EU countries — 10 out of 27 — called for the inclusion of nuclear energy in the list of industries contributing to reducing environmental damage. That is to resume the construction of nuclear power plants. On the other hand, a revival of nuclear energy could reduce European dependence on renewable energy systems and fossil fuels, especially gas, possibly leading to an atomic renaissance.

Against this background, today many countries are increasingly studying the positive experience of nuclear power in Russia, since Russian-made nuclear power plants technologically and in many other respects surpass foreign analogues. A sensation in the world of nuclear energy is the start of construction in the Seversk region, Tomsk, of the new generation of power unit BREST-OD-300. A fast and safe lead-cooled reactor paves the way for unprecedented nuclear production that is safe, resource efficient and environmentally friendly. It works on the principle of a closed-loop nuclear fuel cycle: the plutonium developed in the SNF will manufacture new cargoes of new fuel, supplied from the outside with depleted uranium 238, and so on in circles . Technologies for regenerating and refining spent fuel from reactors are those that guarantee environmental safety. At a meeting on the development of the space sector, President Vladimir Putin noted that Russia has made significant progress in the development of unique space nuclear power technologies, outpacing its competitors by 6-7 years.

In the end, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center presented a report stating that nuclear energy deserved a “green label” because the analysis found no scientifically substantiated evidence that nuclear energy is more harmful to human health or the environment compared to other sources of electricity generation technologies. After that, the issue of reducing the share of nuclear in France’s energy balance was dropped and Macron promoted the idea of ​​preserving and developing nuclear.

France’s initiative was backed by the new coalition government of the Netherlands, which decided to build two new nuclear power plants with plans to commission after 2030 and to double the share of nuclear electricity production . Currently, a nuclear power plant with a capacity of 482 megawatts, the Borssele nuclear power plant, operates in the Netherlands, built by Siemens and commissioned in 1973. It has undergone several upgrades, including conversion to MOX fuel from Kazakhstan. This nuclear power plant provides 3% of the country’s electricity production. The total contribution of nuclear energy to the energy balance of the Netherlands will increase to 7% with the commissioning of two new nuclear power plants and with the extension of the life of the nuclear power plant in Borssele.

Poland’s first nuclear power plant is to be built in the north of the country, in the Pomeranian Voivodeship, 200 kilometers from the border with Russia in the Kaliningrad region.

In Finland, the third unit of the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant, located on the island of the same name on the coast of the Bothnia Bay of the Baltic Sea in western Finland, was launched. Electricity production will begin in January 2022, when a new 1,600 megawatt reactor will be connected to the national grid.

Belarus is considering the construction of a second nuclear power plant with the participation of Russian partners. Belarus is building its first nuclear power plant in the Grodno region, which will consist of two electric units with a total capacity of 2,400 megawatts. The first unit of the power plant is now operational and the second should be active in 2022. According to the Belarusian authorities, the first unit of the Astravets nuclear power plant saved the country about 250 million dollars in gas imports natural.

Kazakhstan also intends to build a nuclear power plant, which will be located 342 kilometers from Bishkek. Kazakh authorities are currently considering proposals from companies in the United States, France, China and Russia. According to the Kazakh authorities, one of the most effective solutions with large-scale construction could become the Rosatom proposal.

The above examples show that the so-called “green agenda”, or rather the objective difficulties encountered in its implementation, have revived interest in nuclear energy, which, according to many experts, will only s escalate in the near future.

New Eastern Outlook, December 28. Vladimir Danilov is a political observer.