atw Vol. 63 (2018) | Issue 3 ı March
Links to reference
UK National Audit
US Senate hearing on
Could Our Nuclear Vision Benefit
From a Spell of Tesla Magic?
As I put the finishing touches to this latest article, US entrepreneur and boss of the Tesla car giant, Elon Musk,
successfully launched a new rocket, the Falcon Heavy, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The vast vehicle is the most powerful shuttle system to date
and the whole exercise was ‘only’ a test – or should that be
taste – of what is to come. The rocket’s payload did not
include an array of satellites or other such paraphernalia.
Instead, it carried an unmistakably entrepreneurial touch
– Musk’s old cherry-red Tesla sports car. On top of that,
there was a mannequin in a spacesuit strapped into the
driver’s seat of the car and the radio was set to play a David
Maybe this is a bit too theatrical for some, but we’ve
come to expect that of Mr Musk. It was he, after all, who
made a bet with the government of South Australia to
deliver the state the world’s biggest battery within 100 days
of being ordered or deliver it free of charge.
Musk of course delivered the Tesla 100nMW/129nMWh
Powerpack system on time and it is now paired with French
utility Neoen’s Hornsdale wind farm and helping to prevent
power outages in South Australia. Such was the success of
the project – never mind the countless free publicity the
project generated around the world – other Australian
states are investing in similar projects and Tesla is at the
front of the queue.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself what all
this has to do with nuclear today. Technologically speaking
nothing, of course. But think ‘outside the box’ – as I’m
sure many of you have been told in those corporate
management- training classes. The answer is: ‘vision’. The
unabashed vision to be bold, daring, imaginative. The
vision to believe in technology and to be unafraid to build
on the experience and knowledge gained to date, including
the failures, as we take the next steps forward.
I do wonder if nuclear has lost its way a little in the past
couple of years in terms and our industry has allowed itself
to become bogged down and lose sight of the prize. Perhaps
we’ve allowed ourselves to be overtaken by events?
For example, there are some exciting nuclear developments
in the UK that appear to have been constrained by a
lack of imagination and commitment – not by the company
and workforce but by those who are supposed to show
Horizon Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of Japan’s Hitachi,
aims to build two Advanced Boiling Water Reactor plants
in North Wales and South Gloucestershire. But the governments
in London and Tokyo are still reportedly mulling
over how to support the projects’ financing.
However, the UK’s Franco-Chinese-funded Hinkley
Point C project, to build a twin unit UK EPR capable of
generating 3,260nMW of secure, low carbon electricity for
60 years, has finally got into its stride. This was something
that could have begun sooner were it not for political
prevarication by the UK government. Of course, progress
was not helped by the Brexit referendum and a subsequent
change of prime ministers!
But even when funding and investment guarantees
were finalised for Hinkley Point C, there was still criticism
from the UK’s National Audit Office. The agency could not
resist piling on complaints regarding the investment,
saying the government had “committed electricity
consumers and taxpayers to a high cost and risky deal in a
changing energy marketplace”.
Never mind the more than 25,000 new employment
opportunities the project will create, plus the fact that,
when built, the plant will be generating low-carbon
electricity for around six million homes!
Contrast this approach with that of countries such as
Russia and China, who are prepared not only to invest in the
development of civil nuclear power at home they also see
the value of partnering in projects beyond the own borders.
In the US, key witnesses to a Senate committee hearing
have been telling legislators that markets must do a better
job of properly incentivising baseload power plants like
nuclear, so the national electric grid becomes more
resilient and reliable – especially during extreme weather.
And there are some positive signs for nuclear again in
the US after a period of gloom. Exelon confirmed recently
that the James A FitzPatrick nuclear power plant, which
had been scheduled to close a year ago, is now spurring
investment in local businesses in New York State. The
utility said FitzPatrick launched several capital projects in
2017 totalling more than $ 15.2 million to realign the
station for long-term operations.
In Brussels in February, the European Commission is
convening an ‘EU Industry Day’, to “update stakeholders on
the Commission's strategic approach to industrial policy
and actions to further develop industrial competitiveness in
Europe”. The event will include discussions on proposals to
create an ‘EU Battery Alliance’, which EU leaders say could
support the establishment of a full value chain of batteries
in Europe, with large-scale battery cells production.
The topic of “clean energy” is mentioned throughout
the advance programme for the EU event – but nuclear
does not get a mention. Why is that? If this event is truly
about building support for European industries and
nurturing and investing in the technologies of tomorrow,
what is so terrible about including nuclear energy?
This brings me back to the ‘vision thing’ I mentioned at
the beginning of this article. Leadership in terms of lighting
the way to a cleaner, greener plant does not mean taking a
blinkered view that turns a blind eye to the undeniable
environmental benefits of energy sources that are simply
politically unacceptable to some.
Perhaps the nuclear industry collectively needs to invite
a certain Mr Musk to come on board for a bit of consul tancy
Nuclear can definitely benefit from a sprinkling of his
entrepreneurial spirit and sparkle at this moment in time.
Let’s face it, for someone who can steer a sports car into
space in one piece, driving investments into a new nuclear
era down here on terra firma should be a piece of cake.
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Could Our Nuclear Vision Benefit From a Spell of Tesla Magic? ı John Shepherd