Nuclear euphoria in Paris

30. 3. 2022


30 March 2022, All for Power - Petr Svoboda

Interview with Miloš Mostecký, Commercial Director of ŠKODA JS a.s.

Nuclear power is once again in the spotlight and a number of countries have decided to revive their plans to build new nuclear power plants. Whether it is the Czech Republic, where the Dukovany tender is about to be announced, or the ambitious plans of France or Poland. "I believe that European countries will seek for long-term energy security and self-sufficiency. Given the construction period, nuclear industry needs a stable environment for its development," Mostecký said, adding that the ŠKODA JS plants in Plzeň are production-ready for all nuclear development scenarios, including small modular reactors. "If they are licensed, we are able to produce them in bulk."

In the autumn, the World Nuclear Exhibition (WNE 2021) took place in Paris. Does the participation give you the feeling that we are at the beginning of a European nuclear renaissance?

We were pleasantly surprised by the spreading euphoria that emanated directly from every booth and by President Macron's announcement on significant strengthening of the role of nucleus in France's energy mix. The intense and positive debate within the European Commission, on the promotion of financing of nuclear energy as a clean energy source, certainly contributed. If I were to answer objectively and realistically, it is not yet possible to talk about a nuclear renaissance, but rather attempt to restart it. The only thing that is clear now is that the lifetime of the units already in operation will be extended to the maximum of their technological capabilities, while maintaining safe operation. Furthermore, I believe that EU countries will decide to ensure genuine long-term energy security and self-sufficiency by adding new units to their systems. I must emphasize the word 'long-term' in view of the ongoing construction period of a nuclear power plant. Last but not least, I have still not lost hope for a turnaround in countries where the decision to move away from nuclear power has been taken in the recent past. The speed of development of storage technologies for full use of renewable sources is not yet sufficient to meet base load.

Is there such a thing as a European "coalition for nuclear sources"?

Late last year, a group of ten member states - France, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - published a united position in support of nuclear power. I believe that this initiative also contributed to the European Commission's recently approved set of rules for green investments, the so-called taxonomy. We believe that these rules will give nuclear power industry a stable environment for its development.

In which countries could new nuclear power plants be built and which countries do you think are furthest along in their preparations?

According to President Macron, France will build at least six new nuclear reactors in the coming decades and potentially eight more in France. EPR nuclear units are currently being built by EDF at Flamanville and Hinkley Point C in the UK. We are also significantly involved in both of these projects and this market is therefore important for us in the future. In addition to these projects, EDF is about to start construction of two new units at Sizewell C in the East of England. Six EPR units at the Jaitapur site in India are also at an advanced stage of preparation. An opportunity to participate in the construction of new units is opening up in Poland, which is negotiating the construction of six units with the same bidders as the Czech Republic, i.e. the US Westinghouse-Bechtel, French EDF and Korean KHNP. Poland's plans are ambitious, with the first unit to be commissioned in 2033 and the other five to be phased in by 2040.
The tender for the construction of the fifth unit of the Dukovany NPP has now been announced. I am convinced that we should, by way of an option, request from the tenderers a price balance sheet for another 3 units. If the taxonomy defines time limits for supporting the construction of a nuclear power plant, there is no time to waste.

How has the construction of large nuclear power plants advanced technologically and have the major players introduced any innovations that surprised you?

In terms of domestic plans for the selection of the contractor for the new unit at Dukovany, the important information is that all three bidders in the tender have certainly learned from the difficulties they encountered in building their pilot units at Olkiluoto and Flamanville (EPR), Vogtle (AP1000) and Barakah (APR-1400). This gives some hope that the construction of Unit 5 at Dukovany will be completed on time and without drastic budget overruns. The main changes are not related to the technology itself, but in particular to project management, supply chain, management of design changes during construction and, last but not least, minimizing shortcomings in the quality of the delivered equipment and installation work.

How does the global nuclear community perceive the potential of 'small' nuclear technologies?

For many years, small and medium-sized modular reactors have been seen within the global nuclear community as an opportunity to address energy needs in a number of sectors. This is not just for power generation alone, but also for the needs of the thermal and chemical industries, seawater desalination and hydrogen production. The ambition of widespread use of small and medium-sized nuclear units faces both general public opinion and legislative unpreparedness to implement these sources. Globally, the nuclear community perceives the trend towards the development and use of SMRs positively, as after years of decline in nuclear technology, a direction has emerged that is attractive to the energy, political and investor community. Many countries and private investors are willing to finance the development and subsequent implementation. For us, the SMR topic is prospectively interesting simply because our production capacities are able to produce small reactors "in bulk". Our reactor shop in Plzeň is sized to produce exactly this type of equipment, not to mention an experienced engineering base capable of designing and delivering such equipment essentially on a turnkey basis. For us as a manufacturer, there remains an open question in terms of our business plans that none of the concepts have yet gone through the entire licensing process of a Western regulator.

Given the service life of many nuclear power plants, are service competences shifting?

In the context of the current requirement to extend the life of ageing reactors beyond the original design value, upgrades to individual systems, particularly the nuclear and turbine island control systems, are underway. At the same time, demands on the predictive value of service inspections of major and critical components are increasing. We strive to cover the entire NPP life cycle with our competences. From the manufacture of critical components, construction, modernization and life extension, supply of spare parts, provision of inspections, maintenance and repair, to decommissioning.

How is nuclear research and the training of people for nuclear projects worldwide? Who is the leader in these areas?

Research and development of new nuclear technologies is concentrated in countries and companies that have traditionally been involved in nuclear for a long time. Until recently, it seemed that a major role in international cooperation would be played by the countries that coalesced around the US in Generation IV (GIV) in 2000 and were then joined by China and Russia. The six selected projects are expected to represent the future of nuclear reactor and fuel cycle development. This has only proven true over time in terms of the commitment of these countries. This VIP club represents the technological cutting edge, but joint research seems to be increasingly more declarative than real. As in other fields, each of the GIV member countries works mainly on its own projects. In 2000, the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO), a member project of the IAEA, was established to help ensure that nuclear energy remains affordable and contributes to meeting global energy needs until the end of the 21st century. There are also efforts for a joint research supported by IAEA resources, and the Czech Republic is a major contributor to the work of INPRO.

Have any companies introduced innovations in the field of nuclear fuel or nuclear waste storage?

So far, the whole world is sticking to temporary storage of used fuel in a wet way in a pool or dry way in containers. As far as final waste storage is concerned, Sweden and especially Finland are the furthest along, having tested the operation of the Onkalo repository on the south-west coast of Finland since last April. This is the world's first true deep-sea repository for radioactive waste. Finland will begin to store the first copper casks of spent nuclear fuel here in 2025. For us, deep-sea storage is an important topic, given our experience with both methods of storing and handling nuclear fuel. We have recently completed the development of a prototype storage assembly for storing spent fuel from the Dukovany and Temelín nuclear power plants in the planned deep repository, including the production of a mock-up. It may sound futuristic, but in the nuclear world, 2050 is actually tomorrow.