Smart Use of Nuclear Power
Editorial, Energy, Feature, Green
August 1, 2019, 6:13 am
By David Haboubi, Head of Nuclear, Middle East & Africa – SNC-Lavalin
With global consumption and demand for electricity set to increase exponentially in the coming years, at least 28 new countries are currently either considering or embarking on a nuclear power programme as a reliable source of clean and sustainable electricity, while 59 reactors are already under construction across the world, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Annual Report 2017.
With the UAE moving closer to commence operation of its first nuclear power plant next year, the country is all set to embark upon a new journey towards generating clean and sustainable energy for its generations to come.
Located 300 km west of Abu Dhabi city and comprising four APR1400 nuclear reactors with 5.6 gigawatts (GWe) capacity, the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant will supply up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs, preventing the release of more than 21 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.
Nuclear power has over the years established itself as a clean and environment-friendly energy option as it generates far less emissions and waste during the production process when compared with other conventional sources such as coal, hydro, or fossil fuels.
For example, in the UK – the world’s oldest nuclear industry – the total amount of radioactive waste produced to date, and forecast to 2125, is about 4.9 million tonnes. About 94% of radioactive waste in the UK is classified as low level waste (LLW), about 6% is intermediate level waste (ILW), and less than 0.03% is classified as high level waste (HLW).
If all waste is been packaged, it is estimated that the final volume would occupy a space similar to that of a large soccer stadium. This is far less when compared with UK’s annual generation of 200 million tonnes of conventional waste, of which 4.3 million tonnes are classified as hazardous.
To put the production and management of radioactive waste into context, it is important to consider the non-desirable by-products such as CO2 of other large-scale commercial electricity generating technologies.
In 2016, for instance, nuclear power plants supplied 2,417 TWh of electricity, 11% of the world’s total consumption. Fossil fuels supplied 67%, of which coal contributed the most (8,726 TWh), followed by gas (4,933 TWh), and oil (1,068 TWh). If the 11% of electricity supplied by nuclear power had been replaced by gas – by far the cleanest burning fossil fuel – an additional 2,388 million tonnes of CO2 would have been released into the atmosphere; the equivalent of putting an additional 250 million cars on the road.
While demand for nuclear power continues to grow, there still remain many concerns, including the risk of accidents at nuclear reactors, and leakages or breakdown of spent fuel storage facilities.
More importantly, managing nuclear waste cost-effectively to ensure that it is immobilised from the environment is a critical part of the nuclear energy development process. Generally, nuclear waste is segregated in different classes of material and radioactive isotopes to ensure that it can be effectively immobilised or conditioned. It is managed through the application of waste hierarchy, and through prioritised practices such as re-use, recycling, decontamination and waste segregation.
While the nuclear industry follows some of the most stringent waste management processes in line with international best practices, it’s important to manage the waste in the right way in order to minimize the volumes needed for disposal, decrease the equipment and facilities needed to treat and store waste, and ultimately reduce overall cost of operations and also decommissioning. As part of its commitment to the highest standards of safety and international practices, the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) issued five regulations containing requirement on managing radioactive waste such as “Radiation Protection and Predisposal Radioactive Waste Management for Nuclear Facilities”, “Decommissioning of Facilities” and “Decommissioning Trust Fund”. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and its affiliates have ensured the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant has sufficient capacity to store spent fuel on site for many years into Operation.
With global expertise across the full life-cycle of nuclear asset, from design and delivery through its operating life, waste management and decommissioning, SNC-Lavalin are also the stewards of CANDU technology that provides safe, reliable, affordable and CO2-free energy to support the economic viability of businesses and quality of life for consumers around the world. Based on over 60 years of proven operational excellence of the CANDU reactor, the Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR) waste management systems cover the collection, transfer and storage of all radioactive gases, liquids and solids, including spent fuel and wastes generated within the plant. The AFCR’s spent fuel bay (SFB) ensures spent fuel cooling is maintained for 15 days without being dependent on operator action.
As the Middle East region is set to see unprecedented rise in electricity demand, which, according to EIA, is estimated to increase 30% by 2028, there is an immediate need to diversify energy sources. In fact, as part of its ‘Energy Strategy 2050’, the UAE has already announced plans to invest AED 600 billion to achieve half of its energy supply from renewable sources and reduce carbon footprint of power generation by 70 per cent.
Nuclear energy is expected to play a crucial role in helping them meet their energy targets with minimal impact on the environment. The UAE has the advantage of being an early-adopter of technology and can lead near-term growth of nuclear energy sector in the region. The country’s peaceful nuclear energy program is in line with the highest standards of quality and safety. In addition to the technical and project management support provided to the program, SNC-Lavalin has supported local capability building through its nuclear internship program for more than 15 Emiratis over the past five years.
The Middle East region is in an enviable position to learn from the challenges faced by other countries when it comes to waste management and adopt industry best practices that fit with its economic, regulatory and environmental conditions. However, to do so, the it needs solutions that are ‘future-proof’ by way of looking at potential waste streams over the next 50 years, that make the best use of local capability using a combination of breakthrough innovative technologies to cut and manage radioactive waste.