New Reactors, Innovation and the Role of Nuclear in Climate Change

April 3, 2018

I’m wondering how many of you read World Nuclear News? WNN is the news arm of the WNA – a source of useful information that can, in my opinion, come across as a little dry. Put another way, they are not typically as aggressive in promoting nuclear energy as they might be. For that reason, I was very pleased to see them giving top billing to an article, written by a public affairs consultant, on why nuclear energy is set to rebound this year.

The article focuses on five points but the comment that really stood out for me was this: “Experts say it is virtually impossible for a major economy to have a reliable, low-carbon grid without nuclear energy. The Germans are learning this lesson the hard way.” Although the author doesn’t go into the details of his Germany comment, those of us in the industry know that the country has been forced to use more coal and to import electricity from France, where the vast majority of power is generated by… nuclear energy.

Even with some help from France’s clean energy, the level of Germany’s carbon creation from its utilities is alarming. Here’s the same image used on the WNN article – it paints quite the picture.

Environmental Progress Graph

Here are a few other German statistics, courtesy of environmentalprogress.org.

  • German emissions have been rising since 2009.
  • Closures of nuclear power plants resulted in more coal power.
  • Germany installed 1.5 GW (3.9%) more in solar capacity but got 1.2 TWh (3%) less electricity from solar in 2016 because it was less sunny than 2015.
  • Germany installed 5 GW (11%) more wind capacity but wind power decreased 2.1 TWh (2.6%) because it was less windy than 2015.
  • German electricity was nearly 10 times dirtier than France's in 2016.

Percent of German Electricity

The absurdity of the German approach – and a few other countries like it – serves to highlight the fact that many nation states, including the home of Big Oil, are actively pursuing a nuclear energy program. That’s why we currently have 56 reactors under construction, with 14 due to come online this year alone, and nearly 160 planned. Whichever way you cut it, that’s a fast pace. In fact, it’s the fastest pace in the last two decades.

These figures are not new to most uranium investors but what the article on WNN also mentioned was the current state of affairs regarding advancements in reactor technology. Interestingly, the number of North American companies developing advanced nuclear technology is up by 56% over the past three years and, while the actual reactor technologies differ (molten salt vs high temp gas vs light water), the reality is that small modular reactors are not only becoming viable, they are becoming desirable. These reactors so small that they can be constructed in a factory and delivered on-site.  If you want to know a bit more about SMR’s, US utility, Energy Northwest, recently sponsored an article on SMR’s in the Seattle Times that is useful. 

There’s more to say on the subject of nuclear’s rebound. The pace of Japanese restarts (see news on the seventh restart), the consolidation of China’s two nuclear giants, the growing call in the US for nuclear energy to be treated as a national security priority to protect energy supply and, of course, the fact that without nuclear, clean energy has no hope of weaning the World off fossil fuels.

Whether, as the WNN author believes, 2018 is the year of the rebound is hard to say. Uranium industry observer and newsletter writer, Mike Alkin, likens the sector to a coiled spring and recent events like the shuttering of the World’s largest, high-grade uranium mine, is tightening that spring even further. At some point, it’s going to explode upwards.  In the meantime, at Fission we are continuing to push towards pre-feasibility and further de-risking our remarkable project as the company positions for the inevitable upswing in prices.

Dev Randhawa, CEO of Fission Uranium