Countries embarking on nuclear energy programmes for the first time or expanding their programmes after a long period without construction face integrated challenges, representatives from emerging and expanding nuclear countries have said. These challenges include the development of human resources as well as financial and political considerations.

The Spotlight side event took place on 18 September (Image: World Nuclear Association)

Spotlight on emerging and expanding nuclear countries, a side event to the 63rd IAEA General Conference in Vienna, was organised by Brazil with the support of World Nuclear Association. The event provided a forum for discussion by a panel of speakers drawn from the nuclear industry, governments and international organisations.

The event was opened by Brazil's Ambassador Marcel Fortuna, International Atomic Energy Agency Deputy Director General Mikhail Chudakov, and World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising.

Chudakov said the event was "timely" for the sharing of experience as the world stands at a crossroads, with scientists warning of the consequences of global warming at the same time as energy demands are increasing. Nuclear energy was a reliable and sustainable source of energy, but a national programme required careful planning and a deep understanding and commitment to ensuring safety in operation, he said.

To meet the Harmony programme goal of achieving a 25% nuclear share of world electricity production by 2050 through the addition of 1000 GWe of new capacity, World Nuclear Association says an average build rate of 10 GWe per year will be required between 2016 and 2020. This rises to 25 GWe per year between 2021 and 2025, and 33 GWe per year between 2026 and 2050. The Association's Spotlight conferences are part of a new initiative to support countries with plans for new nuclear capacity.

Rising pointed to the Association's World Nuclear Performance Report 2019, also published this month, according to which 11 countries are projected to start up nuclear power plants in the next 20 years including newcomer countries UAE, Kenya, Poland, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. "Compared with that - only one new country started up its first nuclear power plant in the last 20 years," she said. "And let me underline that our reference scenario is based on a 'business as usual' perspective. If we can develop a framework more conducive to nuclear growth in terms of economics, public support, and harmonised regulations, there can be many more countries that can develop nuclear in the next 20-30 years."

For nuclear to reach its potential, Rising said it is essential that emerging and expanding nuclear countries share their experiences in developing infrastructure, professional staff and finance, and mastering the licensing and communication challenges in developing a nuclear programme.

Emerging experience

Kenya is at a relatively early stage of its nuclear journey, but is nevertheless working to develop the human resources it will need to support a nuclear power programme, as outlined by David Otwoma, the country's Chief Analyst and Deputy Director of National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation. Over 300 Kenyans have already received training through the IAEA National Liaison Office; more than 30 have so far completed overseas Masters in Nuclear Engineering programmes in Korea and the USA, and a further ten students are currently studying at the Kepco Institute of Nuclear Graduate School in Korea. More than 60 students - mostly with sponsorship from the Kenyan government - have joined the Masters in Nuclear Science programme at the University of Nairobi's Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology. Twenty-six of these have already graduated.

With the first unit of the UAE's four-unit Barakah nuclear power plant now complete, Saood Al Harthi, enterprise communications director of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, outlined the UAE's journey to becoming a nuclear operator. As well as developing a local supply chain with quality and safety standards raised to nuclear-industry levels - some 1500 UAE companies have been involved in the project - there has been a focus on human capacity development. The company is targeting a 60% "Emiratisation" rate. A quarter of personnel that have now qualified to operate the nuclear power plant are female, and three-quarters under 35 years of age, he said.

Anton Moskvin, vice president of Rusatom Overseas, spoke from a technology supplier's perspective of the challenges faced by newcomer countries and provided a framework for the challenges that need to be met when developing a nuclear programme. He advised customers from embarking countries to concentrate on nuclear infrastructure and human resources development, and called for the nuclear industry to pay more attention to stakeholder concerns.

Expanding nuclear countries

The second part of the side event shone a spotlight on three countries which are not newcomers but are now expanding their nuclear programmes: Brazil, Argentina and Romania.

Brazil's two nuclear plants, Angra 1 and 2, supply about 3% of its electricity. Work began on a project to build a third unit - Angra 3 - in 1984 but this was suspended in 1986. It returned to construction in 2010, when first concrete was poured, only to be suspended again in mid-2015. Earlier this year, after industry representatives provided support to the country's plans for new nuclear capacity as part of a clean and reliable low-carbon mix at the World Nuclear Association-organised World Nuclear Spotlight Brazil conference in Rio de Janeiro, Minister for Mines and Energy Bento Albuquerque said the country would consider new nuclear power plants, including generation IV technology and small modular reactors, in its national energy plan to 2050.

Leonam dos Santos Guimarães, president of Eletronuclear, gave an overview of what would be required to restart the 1405 MWe Angra 3 project, which is currently 67.1% complete in terms of civil works. He welcomed the offers Brazil had received from Russia, China and France to support the completion of Angra 3. Electronuclear had instituted a compliance programme to prevent the corruption that had stymied earlier efforts to complete the project, and Brazil was cooperating with Argentina and Slovenia to draw on operating experience and was keen to expand peer-to-peer cooperation, he said. Eletronuclear has now begun a process to identify a project partner: a partner selection notice is to be issued in December, with a partnership agreement expected in November 2020 and site mobilisation by May 2021.

Rondinelli Júnior, Advisor, Directorate for Research and Development at Brazil's National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) outlined the role the commission is playing in developing human resources to support an expanding nuclear sector.

Julián Gadano, undersecretary for nuclear energy at Argentina's Ministry of Energy and Mines, also outlined the development of his country's nuclear programme. Argentina has three nuclear reactors - Atucha 1 and 2 and Embalse - which together generate about 5% of its electricity. Its first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1974. The country is currently working to complete an agreement with Chinese partners to complete a third unit at Atucha.

Two Candu reactors at Cernavoda currently generate up to 20% of Romania's electricity. A major refurbishment of Cernavoda 1, planned to begin in 2026, will enable the plant to operate for a further 30 years, and the country is also considering the construction of further Candu units at the Cernavoda site. In the longer term, Romania is also considering deploying small modular reactors.

Nuclearelectrica CEO Cosmin Ghita talked about the importance of changing the company’s culture and ambitions in order to rejuvenate. Older personnel were retiring and the company had to attract young people who needed to see a strong project pipeline, he said. This was also a critical factor in developing a domestic supply chain to support the construction and operation of nuclear power plants.

Integrated challenges

The challenge of developing a suitable human resource chain to support a nuclear energy programme featured in many of the experiences shared, but the panellists were in agreement that the challenges were integrated.

To bring a nuclear project forward, "the stars need to be aligned", Gadano said.

The next World Nuclear Spotlight event will take place from 15-16 October in Kazakhstan.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Friday, 20 September 2019
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