Debate Continues: Can New Technology Save Nuclear Power?
Nuclear power provides carbon-free electricity for a warming world. But is its use still practical, can it still be economic, is its promise still achievable, and is nuclear a key to combating climate change? So far, nuclear power has fallen short of those goals. Looking at advanced nuclear technologies, it’s not certain that will change.
Japan’s Toshiba Corp. in November said it will scrap its NuGeneration subsidiary and the planned Moorside nuclear station in Britain. Toshiba, owner of Westinghouse’s advanced nuclear technology, said it would take a $162 million hit for killing the project. The Guardian newspaper commented, “The decision represents a major blow to the government’s ambitions for new nuclear and leaves a huge hole in energy policy. The plant would have provided about 7% of UK electricity.”
The Moorside failure is a symbol of the problems that have plagued the latest generation (Generation III, or Gen III) of large, advanced light-water nuclear reactors. Industry and government have offered advanced nuclear designs as a salvation, with a new generation of nuclear plants aimed at the goal of a carbon-free generating technology.
A joint venture of Iberdrola, GDF SUEZ, and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) acquired the 470-acre Moorside site in rural Cumbria near the UK’s nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield in 2009, aiming to develop a nuclear station. The British government enthusiastically signed on. Toshiba took over in 2013, naming its venture NuGeneration (NuGen). The project called for three Westinghouse-designed 1,100-MW AP1000 units, a third-generation reactor design some 20 years in incubation. But the AP1000 has run into serious problems in projects in South Carolina and Georgia in the U.S. The V.C. Summer expansion in South Carolina was abandoned; the Vogtle project in Georgia (Figure 1) is far behind schedule and way over budget.
Toshiba pulled the plug on Moorside (Figure 2) in the wake of the U.S. problems, issues that led Toshiba’s Westinghouse subsidiary into bankruptcy protection in 2017. In a written statement, Toshiba said it “recognizes that the economically rational decision is to withdraw from the UK nuclear power plant construction project, and has resolved steps to wind up NuGen.”