French minister’s exit boosts nuclear hopes; Bechtel to manage Hitachi UK new build project

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

Last November, the French government delayed its target date for nuclear plant closures by almost 10 years. (Image credit Greg Panosian)

Related Articles

French minister's resignation could signal nuclear reprieve

France's environment minister Nicolas Hulot resigned August 28, signalling EDF's French nuclear plants may operate longer than previously expected. Hulot, a long-term green campaigner and nuclear power sceptic, resigned from his post in a radio interview, citing frustration at the "small steps" being taken to tackle climate change.

On September 4, President Emmanuel Macron appointed Francois de Rugy, previously speaker of France’s lower house, as environment minister.

French state-controlled EDF operates all 58 of France's nuclear power reactors which provide around three quarters of the nation's power. 

In 2015, France's previous Socialist government set a target of reducing nuclear power to 50% by 2025. Last November, Macron's government postponed the target date to around 2030-2035, citing grid needs and carbon reduction restraints. De Rugy supported this move but also backs renewable energy expansion.

EDF is also building its first French EPR reactor at Flamanville and reportedly plans to build further reactors in France in the 2020s.

Macron's government is currently preparing its multi-year energy policy roadmap, which should provide more detail on planned nuclear closures. Macron has said he would decide on the future of France’s nuclear plants after ASN, the nuclear safety authority, files its report on the safety of 10-year lifespan extensions.

Some 34 of EDF's 58 reactors will soon reach 40 years of operations. Last November, the ASN delayed its planned publication of the life extension report from 2018 to 2020-2021.

Bechtel to oversee Hitachi UK ABWR project

Hitachi subsidiary Horizon Nuclear Power has appointed Bechtel as Project Management Contractor (PMC) for its proposed 2.7 GW Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station in Wales.

The Wylfa Newydd project consists of two Hitachi-designed ABWR boiling water reactors. If the project gains financial approval, the plant could be operational by the mid-2020s, according to the developer. UK government authorities are expected to start examining Horizon's application for a Development Consent Order this fall.

Bechtel, a long-term partner of the Wylfa Newydd project, will embed 200 employees within Horizon to oversee the project management of the power station, Horizon said in a statement.

Horizon has also signed further contracts with Hitachi Nuclear Energy Europe and engineering contractor JGC New Energy UK Limited (JGC), it said.

The UK government is considering taking a direct stake in the Wylfa Newydd project in a bid to lower costs, energy secretary Greg Clark told Parliament in June.

The government has been under pressure to reduce the cost of new nuclear power plants after it guaranteed a power price for EDF's 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C EPR project at 92.50 pounds per MWh ($118.8/MWh), considered by many to be uncompetitive given falling renewable energy costs. Cost of capital is one reason for the high power price. EDF and its Chinese partners are bearing all construction risks for Hinkley Point C, which is expected to cost around 20 billion pounds to build and is scheduled online from 2025.

The Wylfa Newydd plant "will be cheaper than what has gone before and after that, with smart financing, supply chain learnings and no need for first time overheads, future project costs will fall further still," Duncan Hawthorne, CEO of Horizon Nuclear Power, said.

Global nuclear capacity factor edges above 81%

The global average capacity factor of operational reactors edged up from 80.5% in 2016 to 81.1% in 2017, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) said in its 2018 World Nuclear Performance Report.

The average capacity factor in 2017 remained in line with the five-year average from 2012 to 2016, despite an increasing use of load-following strategies, WNA said.

                     Global nuclear capacity factor by reactor type

                                                        (Click image to enlarge)

Source: World Nuclear Association, IAEA PRIS.

In the new build sector, the total number of reactors under construction fell by two during 2017, to 59 reactors.

Four nuclear construction projects started in 2017 while two projects were cancelled and four were connected to the grid.

                   Global reactor construction projects (end 2017)

                                                        (Click image to enlarge)

Source: World Nuclear Association, IAEA PRIS.

Nuclear Energy Insider