Europe, China strengthen energy ties after US exits climate pact; Canada calls for SMR proposals

Our pick of the latest nuclear power news you need to know.

President Trump has suggested the U.S. could negotiate a new international climate agreement but global support for the Paris accord remains strong. (Image credit: AndrewSoundarajan)

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EU, China sign energy cooperation agreements after Trump withdraws US from climate pact

The European Union (EU) and China have reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord.

The U.S. will cease implementation of the global agreement "and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country," Trump said in a statement June 1.

"This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund which is costing the United States a vast fortune," the President said.

The U.S. could negotiate its way back into a global climate agreement "under the terms that are fair to the United States and its workers," he noted.

At an EU-China summit on June 2, leaders confirmed they would continue to implement the Paris Agreement and agreed to strengthen energy ties, the European Commission (EC) said.

Representatives from EU and China signed an energy cooperation roadmap to set out best practices in areas such as energy regulation, market analysis, nuclear safety and renewable energy, the EC said in a statement.

          Global nuclear power forecast
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Source: EIA (September 2016)

In response to Trump’s announcement, the EC said the Paris agreement, signed by 195 countries, will endure.

"The world can continue to count on Europe for global leadership in the fight against climate change. Europe will lead through ambitious climate policies and through continued support to the poor and vulnerable," the Commission said.

The Paris Agreement is "fit for purpose" and is not prescriptive, allowing the signed-up countries to chart their own course towards the objectives, the EC said.

"The EU will strengthen its existing partnerships and seek new alliances from the world's largest economies to the most vulnerable island states.

This partnership will of course include the many U.S. businesses, citizens and communities that have voiced their support for Paris and are taking ambitious climate action," it said.

Low-carbon supporters defiant

More than 1,200 U.S. governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities signed a declaration agreement on June 5 to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions after the U.S. withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Signatories of the "We are still in" declaration included leaders from 125 cities, 9 states, 902 businesses and investors, and 183 colleges and universities. Participating cities and states represent 120 million Americans and contribute $6.2 trillion to the U.S. economy, and include cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Houston as well as smaller cities like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Dubuque, Iowa.

"The signers all understand that the Paris Agreement is a blueprint for job creation, stability and global prosperity and that accelerating the United States’ clean energy transition is an opportunity - not a liability - to create jobs, spur innovation, promote trade and ensure American competitiveness," the statement said.

"By declaring that “we are still in,” the signatories are putting the best interests of their constituents, customers, students and communities first while assuring the rest of the world that American leadership on climate change extends well beyond the federal government," it said.

State action required

As low wholesale prices continue to threaten the future of U.S. nuclear power plants, operators are calling on state and federal governments to establish support measures.

Speaking at an Energy and Manufacturing Competitiveness Partnership (EMCP) event on May 31, Matt Crozat, Senior Director of Policy Development at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said federal government programs should support the extension of nuclear lifespans to 80 years of operations.

“We must preserve existing nuclear plants, sustain our nuclear technology expertise and build versatile new reactors to support America’s future,” Crozat said.

Exelon said May 30 it plans to retire its 852 MW Three Mile Island Generating Station (TMI) in Pennsylvania in September 2019 unless the state government implements new policies to support the plant.

The announcement came after TMI and Exelon's Quad Cities nuclear plants failed to clear in the latest PJM base residual capacity auction.

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Exelon decided to continue operating its Clinton and Quad cities plants in Illinois after the plants were given support through the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act, introduced in December 2016. New York has also approved zero-emission credits to support nuclear power plants but a number of other nuclear plants are at risk of closure.

Exelon wants nuclear power to be included in Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) to support the continuing operation of the Three Mile Island plant.

"Amending the AEPS is one of many potential solutions to preserve Pennsylvania’s nuclear plants. Other options include establishing a zero-emissions credit program, similar to the approach being implemented in Illinois and New York," the company said May 30.

Trump probes market

President Trump’s administration is currently investigating whether support for solar and wind projects is accelerating the retirement of nuclear and coal plants, Bloomberg reported April 15.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a 60-day study to evaluate how regulatory burdens, subsidies, and tax policies “are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants,” the report said.

Environmental Progress, a pro-nuclear research group, has said that 35 GW of U.S. nuclear capacity is at "triple risk" of closure because the plants are in de-regulated markets, reported to be uneconomical and up for relicensing before the end of 2030.

A far larger capacity could be at risk of closure, according to the research published by Environmental Progress in December 2016.

Cheap natural gas, heavily-subsidized solar and wind, and flattening electricity demand, make nuclear plants less economical everywhere, not just in deregulated markets, it said.

Canada calls for SMR plants proposals, targets site selection in 2017

The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has called for Expressions of Interest from Small Modular Reactor (SMR) developers and plans to begin the generic site selection and licensing process for Canada’s first demonstration reactor later this year, CNL said in a statement June 1.

CNL has invited technology developers, potential end-users and any other interested stakeholders to submit their findings to the laboratory by July 31.

"At this preliminary stage, these activities will be technology neutral, and inclusive of all potential technologies. We need to hear from the broader SMR development community, to ensure that their needs are being captured,” Kathryn McCarthy, Vice-President, Research & Development, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, said.

A number of advanced nuclear reactor developers are targeting the Canadian market, where the risk-informed regulatory framework is considered more supportive for licensing new designs than in the U.S. and where numerous remote communities and industrial facilities represent captive electricity consumers.

Ontario Power Generation [OPG] plans to fill a predicted supply gap in the 2030s with new nuclear capacity and the utility is collaborating with Saskatchewan on the potential for a Pan-Canadian fleet of Small Modular Reactors, Nicolle Butcher, OPG's Vice President of Strategy & Acquisitions, said at the International SMR and Advanced Reactor Summit 2017 on March 30.

While Ontario's clean energy initiatives have supported major refurbishments of OPG’s large-scale nuclear plants, uncertainty over long-term demand trends and a need for shorter development timeframes support SMR build, Butcher said.

Richard Sexton, President and CEO, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, said Canada's SMR program will bring significant economic benefits.

"CNL’s ambitious program in nuclear science and technology, including its goal to be the host of the first demonstration SMR in Canada, will enable it to become a world-class, nuclear science and technology organization, with important benefits for Canada’s innovation, clean economy, and green infrastructure goals,” Sexton said.

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