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Nuclear promise and Jordan’s energy strategy

Jun 05,2018 - Last updated at Jun 05,2018

There were some confused stories in the press recently hinting that Jordan will be constructing a High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor (HTGR). The fact is that Jordan, among many countries, is considering and assessing HTGRs into their energy mix, because of the many favourable features of such class of reactors, including diverse applications (electricity generation, process heat, desalination and hydrogen production), inherent safety features and elimination of core melt, small footprint and reduction of the emergency zone and minimising the water cooling consumption and possibility of dry cooling.

But, some observers and “experts” claim that “operational experience with high temperature reactors that have been constructed in the United States and Germany have been disappointing, with reactors being prone to a variety of failures and being shut down ahead of targeted lifetimes”. This statement is very general and incorrect in many ways. There are about 14 HTGR running very well in the UK. The focus in the next generation reactor is on a specific subset of these reactors, mainly the pebble bed with helium cooled, which actually operated very successfully in Germany but were shut down for purely political reasons.

Normally, progress in the world occurs through learning from past operational experiences and this is exactly what the new vendors of new HTGRs are doing.

As an example, the US passed in 2005 the Energy Policy Act, mandating the construction and operation of a HTGR by 2021. This law was passed after a multiyear study by national experts on what future nuclear technologies should be developed. As a result of the act, US Congress chose to develop the so-called Next-Generation Nuclear Plant, which was to be an HTGR-designed to produce process heat for hydrogen production.

The subset of HTGRs that Jordan is interested in uses graphite as moderator and helium gas as coolant. The fuel is tristructural-isotropic particle type coated with several carbon and other layers, to keep its mechanical integrity and retain fission gases, and is embedded in a tennis ball size graphite ball. The use of such fuel significantly enhances the safety of the reactor; from the fundamental nuclear physics it is inherently safe under normal operation and accident conditions.

HTGRs are known and proven to be “inherently safe” compared to other types of reactors. The probability of core damage under all accident conditions is close to zero. Under these conditions, the maximum fuel temperature is kept below 1,600°C; much lower than the temperature at which core damage occurs. In the unlikely case of air or water ingress, the HTGRs are designed in a way that the temperature of the fuel will never exceed the damage limit. In case of air ingress, there is a passive system which injects Nitrogen to prevent graphite-air reaction. In case of water ingress, two safety systems will work to minimise the amount of water entering the core.

HTGRs use less water for cooling, per MWe, than a typical large reactor because it has higher efficiency of about 44 per cent. Considering its very high steam temperature and other steam conditions, similar to conventional plants, this feature allows the use of dry cooling, which is a plus for Jordan.

Regarding the cost of fuel, it is true that the fuel manufacturing cost is more expensive for
HTGRs compared to other reactors, but this is misleading. Looking at the overall fuel cycle, HTGRs have higher burnup than standard reactors, generating 30 per cent more electricity for the same amount of fuel.

Despite many detractors, Jordan should continue its pursuit of nuclear energy and assessment of the options.  Globally, nuclear energy is the most competitive stable option for generating electricity as has been proven over the last 60 years. Nothing can compete with nuclear energy in the long run. No intermittency, no disruptions in generation, no need for storage technology, over 90 per cent availability, minimal risk exposure to fuel price fluctuations, 60 years of generation, attributes that PV or gas generators could never attain. Today, nuclear power plants built 25-30 years ago, the maximum life of a PV power plant, generate electricity at 3 cents/kWh and will do so for another 30 years, and single handedly subsidise an electricity grid.

As decision-makers in Jordan are contemplating revision of the energy strategy, we leave them with few recommendations:

Jordan should assess the real total cost of energy alternatives, not just market value, accounting for system costs, social costs and environmental impacts or externalities, and choose a generation portfolio among nuclear power, fossil power and renewables that provide grid reliability and energy security, imposes a minimum economic burden on consumers, secures a low carbon future and preserves water resources.

Jordan should carefully design institutional arrangements when encouraging the use of renewables that avoid market distortion and minimise economic burden to consumers.

Jordan should assess the growing number of market experiments that are being conducted in other countries, like Germany and the United States, to learn from the difficult experiences these counties are now facing with their electricity supplies.

 

The writer is manager of the Jordan Nuclear Power Plant Project at the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission 

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Comments

The decision to cancel the acquisition of large VVER-1000 (1000 MWe) nuclear power plants is for one simple reason: sufficient investment could not be found, in large part because the government of Jordan cannot provide financing guarantees for the project (once it starts generating electricity). Simply put, Jordan's credit rating has worsened since 2008; when the nuclear project was launched, & steadily declined since 2011 when debt grew.

The decision to switch to Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) does not guarantee any timeline or success. SMRs are a conceptual, not deployed and not tested (they should NOT be confused with small power plants) & there is no guarantee of success at the present time. The HTGR technology suggested is still somewhere between being a prototype and being a production model: however, the technology in it is not yet proven and likely to be too complex for mass-production. Until it undergoes design simplification -for series production- it will remain a test-bed. Even proven concepts (such as ACP100 or SMART-100) are still in the conceptual phase, and not likely to be deployed before the mid-2020s and exported by the late 2020s or mid-2030s.

As such, nuclear energy supplying Jordan with electricity is not likely to occur any time soon unless a major break-through in SMR deployment occurs. As such, the nuclear programme will most likely focus on the Jordan Research and Training Reactor (JRTR) & Sub-Critical-Assembly (SCA) and (if global prices recover) uranium mining.

What a shame and major insult to all Jordanians that infiltrators suck up high wages from our taxes for such a mega project that need to recognize the basic guidlines of the nuclear club aka IAEA.
The basics is feasibility. What an insult that after 11 years a feasibility is not publically published which we know Kw-h cost will be 5 times higher than renewables or gas when all costs are added....
What an insult...

Whoever wrote this article still lives in the pre-Fukushima era concerning technology choice blindfolded with the previligies earned at Jaec. The average life span for NPP worldwide is 26 years according to IAEA statistics. It's wrong to even mention 60 years except when using a maximum possible lifespan term.The talk about solar energy and storage is pre- Tesla tech. Saying that the search for a technology is ongoing is a proof that they had wasted 11 years.I hope this nonsense comes to an end asap.

I really don't know what to say? Another game you are playing Araj. Tell me who gave the copy for this article? I am sure you have it on one of the many thumb drives.

You and Toukan should give it up. 10 years of nothing but lying to the public is enough

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