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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nuclear energy in Europe, 2011

  • EU countries divided over nuclear stress tests
  • German nuclear phase-out ignites push for coal, gas
  • Switzerland bins nuclear reactor plans
  • Bulgaria law aims to cool solar, wind energy surge
  • Russian pipeline breaks free from EU rules
  • Russia-China summit seeks gas deal breakthrough
  • Influential MEP calls for shale gas regulation
  • French nuclear power plant explosion heightens safety fears
Quote of the day:  I completely agree with what the Japanese diplomat said. Germany should have thought better. They didn't. Too bad. For them. And for everyone. Because the replacement of nuclear energy is not easy, nor simple.

EU countries divided over nuclear stress tests

13 May 2011
France and Britain, the two EU countries with the largest nuclear industry, strongly opposed stringent stress tests on nuclear power plants following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger's proposal to introduce them was sponsored by Austria, a country without nuclear energy, and backed by Germany.
In a short statement, the European Commission announced that a meeting of the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) had ended without any results.
The Commission added that Oettinger had convened another ENSREG meeting for next week, on 19 and 20 May in Prague. Discussions will also continue at a lower level.
National experts and regulators from several EU countries with nuclear reactors objected to including terrorist attacks as part of the security review of their nuclear installations.
This is despite an agreement reached at the highest political level following the Fukushima disaster to set the "highest standards" of nuclear safety in Europe.
But the German commissioner has thus far only repeated that he would not accept any watering down of the stringent tests proposed.
There is no deadline for adopting a decision on nuclear stress tests.   source
My comment: This is if you happened to believe that there will be stress-tests and that your governments are really worried about your safety. They are not. Of course, I am a firm supporter of nuclear technology (at least for now), but the thing is that there is some hypocrisy in the attitude toward nuclear plants. The nuclear plant(s) in Bulgaria are required to pass very strict tests to their safety, but the same plants in France are not required. Is this fair? What is more important - is it safe?! Because this is technology, it is prone not only to human error, but also to defects and aging. The only way to be sure is to regularly check. Unfortunately, France very well know that their plants won't pass the tests, not all of them, and so the conveniently decide to postpone the decision till they can be sure the results will be good for them. Oh, well, I understand them. But I don't understand why Bulgaria had to close the reactors of our nuclear plant, if safety is not so important after all. Especially considering the fact that on those reactors were done real stress tests and they passed them! 

German nuclear phase-out ignites push for coal, gas

01 June 2011
A battle over the future shape of Germany's energy industry is looming after its pioneering decision to shut all 17 of its nuclear reactors by 2022.
The move followed a wave of anti-nuclear protests sparked by the disaster in Fukushima, Japan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that power use would be cut 10% by 2020 and renewables such as wind and solar energy would be further expanded.
But Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk saw an opportunity for Poland's dirty coal plants.
One Japanese diplomat, speaking in a personal capacity, raised a further issue. "Germany should have taken more time to consider all the aspects of energy security involved before making a decision," he told EurActiv. source
My comment: I completely agree with what the Japanese diplomat said. Germany should have thought better. They didn't. Too bad. For them. And for everyone. Because the replacement of nuclear energy is not easy, nor simple. Especially, if you want to remain as carbon neutral as possible. Especially if carbon emissions are paid by the emitters. Unfortunately, this is what happens, when people react based on fear and not on reason. 

Switzerland bins nuclear reactor plans

01 June 2011
The Swiss government has voted to scrap plans to build new nuclear reactors, but said it would not shut existing plants prematurely.
The approvals process for three new nuclear power stations had been suspended in March, pending a safety review, after the Fukushima disaster shook public confidence in the industry.
There will now be no replacement for the country's oldest nuclear reactor, which is set to come offline in 2019.
She said the government would have to plug the energy gap in the transition period by increasing electricity production from fossil fuels. It also aims to expand hydropower, develop new kinds of renewables and try to cut the demand for energy.
The transition cost would be around 0.4-0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), the government said. source
My comment: Precisely, the energy will come from fossils. Are they safer? In the short scale - maybe. In the long run, maybe not. Let's hope that this will bring some investments and thus innovation to renewables at least. 
And a little bit more recent news on the issue: 

Swiss to shut down nuclear power plants by 2034
30 September 2011
Swiss Parliament has approved plans to phase out nuclear power plants by 2034.
The Swiss Senate's endorsement yesterday (28 September) follows a June vote by the lower chamber to back the gradual shutdown of nuclear energy plants recommended in May by the government, which has frozen plans for a new construction programme in the wake of the Fukushima atomic plant explosion.

The Swiss government estimates that phasing out nuclear power in the Alpine country would cost up to SFr3.8 billion (€3.1 billion). source

Bulgaria law aims to cool solar, wind energy surge

23 May 2011
Bulgaria approved a new law on renewable energy yesterday (21 April) in a bid to cool a surge in solar and wind power projects that threatens to overwhelm its ageing power grid and boost electricity prices.
The law changes the government's obligatory purchase of electricity produced from renewable energy generators at high, fixed prices, which has led to a jump in projects totalling over 6,000 megawatts - well above the country's grid capacity.
The centre-right government says that Bulgaria needs only 2,000 MW of new green energy generation to meet a target, which it committed to the European Union, of supplying 16% of its energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2020.
The government aims to put a cap on wind and solar projects to keep electricity prices in the EU's poorest country at affordable levels and avoid public discontent. Power and heating bills eat up much of Bulgarians' incomes.
It also decreases the obligatory long-term purchase power contracts to 20 from 25 years for solar energy and to 12 from 15 for wind.
Under the new law, the energy regulator will set annual preferential feed-in tariffs, which pay per unit of electricity produced from low-carbon energy by the end of June each year.
The government said the measures would scare away speculators and also encourage investors to speed up projects and not wait for solar panels and wind turbine prices to drop. source
My comment: OK, there are two things here. First, it is obvious that the intellect of Bulgarian ruler party is about this of a dog, if one considers how one country needs only some number of MW to meet the EU target. Because after all, the point of the whole stunt is not the target, but to be energy independent. And here comes the second point - the idea to buy off the renewable energy at higher tariffs than ordinary one is absurd. Maybe 10 years ago, it made sense. But not anymore. I think it is enough the guarantee in a long-term contract to buy the energy. From there on, why should it be more expensive? Why should customers pay MORE to get energy which is essentially free, apart form the investment and running costs, part of which came from European initiatives - i.e. taxpayers money! In that, I actually applaud the idea of our government. Ok, not really, since their real problem is that they don't have enough money to pay energy oligarchs, but lets ignore this for the moment. I think that if the renewable industry is to become competitive and good for the people, it should little by little be put on equal terms with fossil fuel industry. Meaning, equal prices, but also guaranteed protection from state-run energy monopolies. This way, the owners of those solar/wind plants, will have interest into re-investing in the plants to improve technology and thus the technology will develop and eventually it will become competitive. It is funny how good deeds may come out of completely wrong motives. 

Russian pipeline breaks free from EU rules

15 July 2011
Both the EU-favoured Nabucco pipeline and its Gazprom-sponsored competitor South Stream will "most probably" get a derogation from the Third Energy Package, the EU's legislative framework that provides competitors with free access to pipeline networks, Bulgarian Energy Minister Traycho Traykov announced today (14 July). EurActiv's partner in Bulgaria, Dnevnik, reports.
The Bulgarian minister stressed that for the time being not a single gas pipeline project could work according to the rules of the fully-liberalised market. It is therefore necessary for new projects to postpone compliance with a requirement to offer competitors access to their planned pipeline networks, he explained.
Should Traykov's statements prove to be true, then the EU is effectively axing its rules on the liberalisation of gas markets, negotiated in 2007-2008.
Asked to comment, Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger's spokesperson Marlene Holzner evasively said that "exemption requests must be assessed on a case-by-case basis". "The [European] Commission cannot predict the outcome of the assessment by national energy regulatory authorities, neither its own assessment," she said.

Recently, the Commission asked Bulgaria to change a 2008 bilateral agreement with Russia, providing for full and unrestricted transit of Russian gas across the EU newcomer's territory.
The draft initially said South Stream shareholders would enjoy exclusive gas transportation, while a new sentence has since made that possibility conditional upon the Commission's approval. source
My comment: Not very surprising, actually. I never really understood the idea of the Energy Liberalization - if this was to make state-run monopolies sell off some of their property, it simply didn't happen. And if so many countries still do not obey this initiative, then what's the point of it at all?

 Influential MEP calls for shale gas regulation

01 July 2011
One of the most influential members of the European Parliament is proposing a new directive that would penalise or even ban the exploitation of shale gas, the controversial new fossil fuel that is tipped as the major energy source of the future.
Jo Leinen told the Guardian he wanted a new "energy quality directive" that would mean fuels with adverse environmental impacts – such as shale gas and oil from tar sands – were stringently regulated within the EU.
Leinen said there was likely to be support for such a legislative intervention, as many MEPs are increasingly worried about the role of shale gas in the world's energy mix.
Shale gas extraction has been linked to a wide variety of environmental problems, including pollution of the water supply, excessive use of water resources and potential seismic effects. In France, further expansion of the shale gas industry has been banned, and in the UK drilling operations have been halted after two small earthquakes near the exploration sites.
Although gas produces only half of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with coal when burned to produce electricity, one study from Cornell University has suggested that the true emissions related to shale gas could be greater than those from coal, if factors such as methane leakage during the extraction process were taken into account. source
My comment: I completely support full ban of shale gas, but I doubt it will happen. Especially, since Poland is so serious about lobbying for the questionable technology. And I can understand them - some US company, comes promising them cheap new energy, which is free of the coal-related emissions. And they believe. They don't ask what will be the ecological and health cost, because they have more serious problem right now. And because the same company, probably pays politicians and media quite well to advertise that technology. What the Commission can do is to regulate the whole business in a way that will secure no people lives or parts of Natura 2000 will be risked by the whole procedure. And to find a way to make that company PAY BIG if they lied about the safety of the procedure and harmed people. 
Similar news: Parliament rejects calls for offshore oil drilling ban - The European Parliament has rejected calls for a moratorium on offshore drilling, pushing instead for Brussels to adopt new rules obliging oil majors to subscribe to insurance schemes in order to cover the potentially disastrous consequences of an oil spill.
EU faces down tar sands industry -  The EU executive has defied intense pressure from governments and lobbyists to include oil from innovative but highly-polluting tar sands within Europe’s Fuel Quality Directive.
Between September 2009 and July 2011, Canadian government and oil industry representatives organised more than 110 lobby events in Brussels – over one per week – and in February, it was reported that Ottawa had threatened a trade war over the issue.
The proposal still needs approval from national governments, but should this happen, tar sands will be ascribed a greenhouse gas default value of 107 grams CO2 equivalent per megajoule (CO2eq/MJ) of fuel, as opposed to the 87.5g CO2eq/MJ average for crude oil, reflecting the greater harm it causes to the environment.
Other unconventional sources were also hit hard, with oil shale being included at a value of 131.3 CO2eq/MJ, and coal-to-liquid at 172 CO2eq/MJ.  - this really is a victory! 

French nuclear power plant explosion heightens safety fears

06 July 2011
An explosion sparked a fire at a French nuclear power station on Saturday (2 July), just two days after the authorities found 32 safety concerns at the plant.
The blaze at the Tricastin plant in Drôme in the Rhône valley sent a thick cloud of black smoke into the sky. A mistral wind sent it south over a nearby motorway on one of the busiest travel days of the year as the French left for their summer holidays.
EDF, which runs the power station, said the incident took place in an electric transformer situated in the non-nuclear part of the plant and had not resulted in any radiation leak or any other contamination.
A statement issued by the French energy giant raised further concerns as it omitted to mention the explosion – only a fire – and did not give the cause of the blaze.
EDF added that the plant's number one reactor was not in operation at the time of the fire, having been "closed for its annual maintenance". Police confirmed there was no environmental contamination.
On Thursday France's nuclear safety authority, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), demanded 32 safety measures at the Tricastin number one reactor, a 900MW water pressurised reactor built in 1974 and put into operation in 1980. source
My comment: Isn't it strange that the reactor wasn't operational during the accident? Kind of too convenient! I don't believe them, at all. French nuclear plants are old (well, at least some part of them) and they need serious monitoring, to ensure that in all of them, proper measures have been taken. France haven't agreed to the stress tests yet. One could wonder why. But it is obvious. 

Safety fears after explosion at French nuclear site
13 September 2011
A Green MEP has called for the Centraco nuclear waste treatment site in Marcoule to be shut down, as the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) begins an inquiry into a blast there yesterday (12 September) that killed one man and injured four others, one with severe burns.

A statement by the European Commission said that "since Centraco is a waste treatment facility, it has not been subject to the stress test exercise" announced by Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger in the wake of the Fukushima disaster last March.
Evangelia Petit, a spokesperson for the ASN, told EurActiv that the plant had been stress tested by the ASN and that "in the past there have been incidents" there, but gave no further details.

Marcoule is one of France's oldest nuclear sites. It was opened in 1956 to aid France's nuclear weapons industry, but in the 1990s it began recycling nuclear waste and creating mixed oxide fuel (MOX) for nuclear power stations. source
My comment: No comment, really. The conclusions are obvious. 

 Lobby fury as MEPs trash CO2 emissions cut - A lobbying row has broken out as the European Parliament decisively rejected yesterday (5 July) increasing the EU's 2020 CO2 emissions reduction target from 20% to 30%, on 1990 levels 
According to Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green MEP and rapporteur for the Parliament's position on EU emissions reduction targets, the vote was distorted by undemocratic lobbyists.
"The German liberals did not follow the group line because of the heavy lobbying from industry," he told EurActiv.
EU traders fear Australian carbon market 'price shock' -
The Australian government's decision to set the carbon tax in its new CO2 trading scheme too high may trigger a market shock when the price free-floats in 2015, analysts warned.
Under the new scheme, companies will have to pay $23 for each tonne of Australian carbon produced - around $10 per tonne higher than equivalent prices in the EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS).
This will rise by 2.5% each year, in line with inflation, until the tax becomes a carbon trading price in three years' time.
Top scientists condemn EU land use values for biofuels -  Over 100 top scientists and economists have written to the European Commission calling for indirect land use change (ILUC) to be accounted for in EU biofuels policy making. The letter, seen by EurActiv, argues that assigning biofuels a zero or "carbon neutral" emissions value – as the EU has done – “is clearly not supported by the [best available] science”.
The scientists’ letter cites peer-reviewed research over several years, some commissioned by the European Commission, which show that displaced human activity caused by converting forests and grasslands to biofuels production can result in “substantial” CO2 emissions.

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