Saturday, January 30, 2016

Energy Outlook 2016 from ExxonMobil

Subtitle:  World Cannot Build More than 500 Nuclear Plants in 25 Years

An Energy Outlook for the next 25 years (to 2040) is published and available for downloading, this one is from ExxonMobil (EM).  see link    It has some interesting points, and this article discusses the nuclear plant aspect.   Another article will discuss the coal aspect.   Essentially, EM anticipates 65 percent growth in electricity demand over the 25 year period, from approximately 20 thousand TWh to 33 thousand TWh (TWH is terra-Watt-hours).   Is the 65 percent growth reasonable?  One can quickly determine that a 2 percent annual growth rate yields 1.64 when compounded 25 years, which is close enough for such endeavors.  

Growth in nuclear plant output is described as: "Nuclear capacity to grow by 85 percent 2014-2040, led by China" - pg 46 of the Outlook.   The implications of this statement, if true, are staggering.   First, the number of nuclear power plants that must be completed and started up, per year on average, is 20 plants per year.    There must be approximately 520 new power plants (a few more or a few less, depending on output) in only 25 years.   The 520 is arrived at as follows.

At present, there are 437 nuclear power plants operating in the world, and 85 percent more is then 808 plants.  However, many of the existing plants are old and will shut down well within 25 years, such as almost every plant in the US, Western Europe, and Japan.  With a conservative estimate of 150 such plants shut down due to old age, that then gives 808-437 + 150 equals 521.   There very well could be more plants shut down due to old age.  

The challenge, then, is how to design, obtain approval to construct, then build and place into operation 20 nuclear power plants per year in each of the next 25 years.   For perspective, World Nuclear Report stated that only 5 new reactors started up in 2014.  (Two of those had construction periods of 31 years (Russia), and 33 years (Argentina).  The other three reactors were all in China).  

One can safely assume that the world will NOT build 520 new nuclear plants over the next 25 years.  The logistics and manufacturing required to support building 20 reactors per year simply does not exist.  To mention merely one of those, there are simply too few manufacturing plants to build the heavy-wall, nuclear-grade reactors to turn out 20 new reactors per year.    In addition to the reactors, the plants also require heavy-duty heat exchangers, large pumps, steam turbines, and very large generators.  

For most countries, the time required to construct a new nuclear power plant is approximately 10 years.   Some, as shown above, require far longer.    

In addition, the cooling water required for the nuclear power plants is enormous.  An earlier article on SLB discussed this see link, showing that nuclear plants consume approximately 4 times the amount of cooling water compared to combined-cycle gas turbine power plants.   

Also, finding suitably safe locations is a serious concern for 520 new nuclear power plants, given the earthquake and tsunami risks, as well as radiation releases and their hazards for populated areas.   Professor Derek Abbot discussed this in his excellent article from 2011, published in Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 99, No. 10, pp. 1611–1617, 2011.  The article title is "Is Nuclear Power Globally Scalable?"    see link The list of problem areas that Professor Abbot discusses includes:

1.  Not enough plant sites (away from population, near cooling water, etc)
2.  Land area required per plant
3.  Embrittlement problem
4.  Entropy problem
5.  Nuclear waste disposal
6.  Nuclear accident rate problem 
7.  Proliferation
8.  Energy of extraction (mining dilute ores for uranium)
9.  Uranium resource limits
10. Seawater extraction for uranium
11. Fast Breeder Reactors
12. Fusion Reactors
13. Materials Resources (materials of construction, rare alloy metals)

14. Elemental diversity


ExxonMobil usually has conservative, reasonable publications, however this one seems a bit off on the nuclear power projections for the next 25 years.   Even if nuclear power plants were accepted as safe and economic alternatives to conventional power generation technologies, there are enormous and insurmountable logistics and regulatory issues to overcome to install the requisite number of plants, more than 500 total in only 25 years.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

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