South Carolina’s $9 Billion Nuclear Boondoggle Fits a Global Pattern of Troubles

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One of two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to remain unfinished at South Carolina’s VC Summer nuclear power plant

“Public trust is at stake here, folks.” That’s how South Carolina’s top power industry regulator described the gravity yesterday of local utilities’ decision to walk away from a pair of partially-built nuclear reactors, according to Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper. Public Service Commission chairman Swain Whitfield added that the reactors’ cancellation after $9 billion of investment — more than the state’s annual budget — “is going to shatter lives, hopes and dreams” in South Carolina.

South Carolina-based Santee Cooper and SCANA’s abandonment of their pair of new reactors, announced on Monday, also have broader ramifications for the nuclear industry’s self-declared “nuclear renaissance.” In March the cost overruns and delays afflicting this project and a sister project in Georgia drove the reactor designer and builder Westinghouse Electric Co. into bankruptcy. Cost overruns and political concerns are also squeezing nuclear suppliers from France, South Korea, and Russia. Continue reading

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Nuclear Shutdowns Put Belgians and Britons on Blackout Alert

Doel nuclear power plant by Lennart Tange

Doel nuclear power plant. Credit: Lennart Tange

A bad year for nuclear power producers has Belgians and Britons shivering more vigorously as summer heat fades into fall. Multiple reactor shutdowns in both countries have heightened concern about the security of power supplies when demand spikes this winter.

In Belgium, rolling blackouts are already part of this winter’s forecast because three of the country’s largest reactors — reactors that normally provide one-quarter of Belgian electricity — are shut down. Continue reading

EC Sees Heavy Pricetag to UK Nukes Plan

UK prime minister David Cameron at Hinkley Point

UK prime minister David Cameron at Hinkley Point

Government incentives for a pair of proposed nuclear reactors could cost U.K. taxpayers as much as £17.62 billion, thus exceeding the reactors’ projected cost. The EC figure is a preliminary estimate included in an initial report to London published on Friday by European Commission competition czars. The letter notifies the British government that—as we predicted in December—Brussels is launching a formal investigation to assess whether the subsidies violate European state aid rules.

The preliminary findings suggest that the U.K. and E.C. are on a collision source. As the Financial Times summed it up this weekend: “The severity of [the EC’s] initial concerns will cast a shadow over government hopes to win approval for the deal.”

Continue reading

Tidal Power Flowing Stronger

mct-seagen-system-with-yacht1Tidal power developments by British firms show this renewable power technology achieving impressive scale and continued design innovation. Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines (MCT) revealed last month that its SeaGen dual-turbine system achieved full power operation of 1.2 megawatts. MCT’s power peak is four times the global record for a tidal stream system set by the company in 2004, according to U.K.-based renewables journal REFocus, and 30-times more than the output from the tidal turbines pumping electricity in New York’s East River.

Meanwhile the U.K. Guardian reported yesterday that more largescale demonstrations are on the way as Cardiff-based Tidal Energy Ltd prepares to test a 1-MW version of its triple-rotor design by next year off the coast of Wales.

Achieving full power operation clears a major hurdle for MCT. As TechReview reported last July, the company suffered a setback early on when the powerful tidal streams of Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough damaged one of its blades shortly after installation. In an odd way it’s an affirmation of MCT’s design, which enables the dual rotors to be lifted clear up out of the water for easy maintenance and repair.

While at a considerably earlier phase of development, MCT rival Tidal Energy’s triple-rotor concept provides an equally innovative means of ready repair. Tidal Energy’s rotors sit at the corners of a three-legged platform that can be deposited on the seabed and held in place by the systems 250-ton heft. That should not only ease recovery of the system for maintenance, but also simplify installation by eliminating the need for a fixed foundation in the seabed.

To see these concepts in action see MCT and Tidal Energy’s dueling animations.

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This post was created for the Technology Review guest blog: Insights, opinions and analysis of the latest in emerging technologies