A recently published French governmental report has blown a significant hole in the French nuclear decommissioning strategy, writes Paul Dorfman, Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder of the Nuclear Consulting Group. According to Dorfman, the report found that the clean-up of French reactors will take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than French nuclear operator EDF anticipates. Republished from Nuclear Monitor #839 www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor
The French report, on the technical and financial feasibility of dismantling nuclear facilities, was produced by the National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development.1
In late January, the Committee took evidence from the EDF head of decommissioning and me. Given the Commission had been working on this for months, and had listened to mounds of complex data, I decided to cut to the chase and make as clear an argument as I could. What follows is that evidence.
How much have France, Germany and UK set aside for decommissioning?
Whereas Germany has set aside €38 billion to decommission 17 nuclear reactors, and the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estimates that clean-up of UK’s 17 nuclear sites will cost between €109‒250 billion over the next 120 years, France has set aside only €23 billion to decommissioning its 58 reactors. To put this in context, according to the European Commission,
Soon EDF will have to start the biggest, most complex and costliest nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management programme on earth
France estimates it will cost €300 million per gigawatt (GW) of generating capacity to decommission a nuclear reactor ‒ far below Germany’s assumption of €1.4 billion per GW and the UK estimate of €2.7 billion per GW.
How can EDF decommission at such low cost?
EDF maintain that because of standardization of some of the reactors and because there are multiple reactors located on single sites, they can decommission at a low cost. Does this claim stack up? Well, probably not. Reactors are complex pieces of kit, and each has a differing operational and safety history. In other words, nuclear reactor decommissioning is essentially a ‘bespoke’ process.
Who will pay?
Germany has made multiple provision, enrolling the reactor owners involved ‒ EnBW, EOn, RWE and Vattenfall ‒ to pay into a state-owned fund to decommission the plants and manage radioactive waste. The UK Government will pay most of the costs for nuclear decommissioning and existing waste. In France, EDF must pay for it all. For the French, the big question is: Has EDF set aside enough money to cover the huge cost of dismantling and cleaning up its existing nuclear power stations?
EDF says it wants to set aside a €23 billion fund to cover decommissioning and waste storage for an estimated €54 billion final bill ‒ and the difference between these two figures will be closed through the appreciating value of its equities, bonds and investments ‒ in other words, ‘discounting’. Discounting involves hoping that the value of these equities, bonds and investments will increase over time. Unfortunately, recent experience has taught us that markets can go up and down over time ‒ especially the very long-time periods involved in radioactive waste management.
Why has EDF underestimated the costs of decommissioning and waste storage?
Even EDFs €23 billion limited provision for decommissioning and waste storage is a large sum of money for a company that has huge borrowings and enormous debt, which is currently running at €37 billion.
The French nuclear regulator (ASN) says that storing and disposal are much bigger and costlier problems than just dismantling the reactors
Already, Standard and Poor and Moodys (the two biggest international credit rating agencies) have downgraded EDFs credit-worthiness over the corporation’s potentially ill-advised decision to go ahead with attempting to construct two more of the failing Areva reactor design (the EPR) at Hinkley Point, UK. And any significant change in the cost of decommissioning would have an immediate and disastrous impact on EDFs credit rating ‒ something that the debt-ridden corporation can simply not afford.
EDF’s other financial woes
EDF is already in financial trouble. Along with bailing out the collapsing French nuclear engineering design company (Areva), not only must EDF bear the huge financial burden of their failing reactor new-build at Flamanville, but also pay for extending the life of France’s existing nuclear power stations (to 2025), at a cost of €55 billion.
Meanwhile, the estimated cost of radioactive waste management is steadily rising. There are three elements to the waste costs: decommissioning; spent fuel and waste storage (and conditioning) prior to disposal; and spent fuel and waste disposal.
The French nuclear regulator (ASN) says that storing and disposal are much bigger and costlier problems than just dismantling the reactors. This is because nuclear waste (high and medium level waste, including spent fuel) must be dismantled and moved to a new facility, which has not even begun to be built yet. And the French authority tasked with disposal of all the countries vast and increasing waste burden (Andra) has recently ramped the estimated cost for the planned national nuclear waste repository at Cigéo, to €25 billion ‒ and EDF must pay for most of Cigéo’s construction. Although €5 billion more than EDF anticipated, it still seems a gross underestimation, and the costs are likely to rise considerably.
Spent nuclear fuel build-up
Then there’s EDF’s existential problems at France’s high-level waste storage and reprocessing facility at La Hague, where spent nuclear fuel stores are reaching current cooling capacity limits. This means La Hague may now have to turn away spent fuel shipments from France’s reactor fleet.
In any case, since ASN has identified safety problems with some spent fuel transport flasks, spent fuel transport to La Hague has substantially slowed. All this means the build-up of spent fuel at nuclear sites across France, with the associated problem of cooling the spent fuel at those sites during dry summer periods, with all that means for further escalation of rad-waste costs.
French National Assembly Commission findings
Happily, and perhaps unexpectedly, when the National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development published its final key findings last month, they came down on the side of those who voiced concerns about EDF’s provisioning for reactor decommissioning and waste management, noting that there is “obvious under-provisioning” regarding “certain heavy expenses” such as taxes and insurance, remediation of contaminated soil, the reprocessing of spent fuel and the social impact of decommissioning.
The Commission found that the clean-up of French reactors will take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than EDF anticipates.
“Other countries have embarked on the dismantling of their power plants, and the feedback we have generally contradicts EDF’s optimism about both the financial and technical aspects of decommissioning”
The Commission reported that EDF showed “excessive optimism” in the decommissioning of its nuclear power plants. “Other countries have embarked on the dismantling of their power plants, and the feedback we have generally contradicts EDF’s optimism about both the financial and technical aspects of decommissioning,” the report states. The cost of decommissioning “is likely to be greater than the provisions”, the technical feasibility is “not fully assured” and the dismantling work will take “presumably more time than expected”.
Critically, the Commission’s report says that EDF arrived at its cost estimate by extrapolating to all sites the estimated cost of decommissioning a generic plant comprising four 900 MWe reactors, such as Dampierre, noting that: “The initial assumption according to which the dismantling of the whole fleet will be homogeneous is questioned by some specialists who argue that each reactor has a particular history with different incidents that have occurred during its history”.
So what now?
Soon EDF will have to start the biggest, most complex and costliest nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management programme on earth. It seems very likely that ‒ for various reasons associated with its current bank balance ‒ EDF may have seriously underestimated the real challenges and costs, with serious consequences for its already unhealthy balance sheet. This will have profound consequences for the French State, which underwrites EDF.
The National Assembly’s report (in French) is posted at www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/documents/notice/14/rap-info/i4428/%28index%29/depots
Dr Paul Dorfman is Honorary Senior Research Associate, Energy Institute, University College London (UCL); and founder of the Nuclear Consulting Group (www.nuclearconsult.com).
This article was first published in Nuclear Monitor #839 www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor and is republished here with permission.
Surprise! “Cheap nuclear” was an euphemism, meaning cheap only for the nuclear companies that get bailed out again and again by France, Japan, UK and other countries. Cleaning this mess up will take a long time and be very, very expensive to current and future tax payers. Sadly Germany still has 17 otherwordly expensive nuclear plants and their associated waste to clean up, but thank god not 58!
Nigel West says
Comparing the cost of decommissioning the UK’s nuclear stations with France’s PWR fleet has limited value. Gas cooled reactor cores are much bigger beasts. The AGR core is surrounded by a huge RC biological shield which will not be cut open for at least 100 years. Whereas a PWR, once defuelled, can be decommissioned and many of the radioactive components removed from site.
The other possible mistake is the UK NDA costs quoted above may cover both military and civilian waste?
No one should be surprised that the costs are not comparable as the designs are totally different. Also depends on the timescale over which the work is undertaken.
David Dirkse says
nuclear research has been neglected for decades. MSR burn nuclear waste so this technology needs to be developed. Also keep in mind that the “renewables” will never be able to sustain a modern industrialized society. Nuclear power is the only option to once exit the fossil fuel era. We can’t change the laws of nature.
doug Card says
[…] There will be no FF or Nuclear in 40 to 50 years.
David Dirkse says
No problem. There is enough coal, oil and gas for a century. If coal gasification is realized or methane hydrates from deep sea, the fossil fuel era may extend to many more centuries (which I expect)
My guess: within 15 years fossil fuel will be widely re-appreciated.
In time nuclear will take over. Not because supplies of fossil are short but because the technology is better.
Bas Gresnigt says
It’s clear that Germany’s (and Denmark’s, etc.) best scientists estimate that renewable are able to sustain a modern industrialized society.
For Netherlands the calc is easy. Recent offshore wind farms were contracted for €55/MWh in first 15yrs and thereafter whole sale price which is ~€30/MWh. So on av. <€50/MWh. Those wind farms using 8MW wind turbines produce with a capacity factor of ~52%.
And those prices will decrease further with the increase of wind turbine size (=higher = higher capacity factor). 12MW is in development.
We have 57,000km² of the North Sea. So if we put on av. one wind turbine of on av. 10MW at each km², offshore will produce 2500TWh/a while the 17mln Dutch consume 120TWh (incl. industry, etc).
So offshore wind alone can deliver enough to satisfy (partly via e.g. Power-to-Gas) all other energy needs in NL, and then we still can export massive amounts.
Furthermore we also have onshore wind (40,000km² though lower cap. factor and much unusable due to NIMBY), PV-solar, geo-thermal (great resource which heats a lot near my home), etc.
We and most countries have enough underground storage for the H2 gas produced via PtG, to cover very long winter dips.
Note that similar applies for most countries!
David Dirkse says
these calculations fail to mention the amount of resources needed. 125000 wind turbines 1 million kg of steel etc each.
Plus the grid connections (1 billion per windfarm) Plus the factories for H2,CH4 (motor fuel, storage)
This space was not accounted for as well.
To implement this system in the next 25 years requires the installation of 13 turbines per day. After that time 20 tubines daily would need refurbishment or replacement. No doubt the prosperity of the inhabitants will drop dramatically. Total collapse of society is more likely.
Btw: Germany runs for 45% on lignite. Germany destroys it’s nature. It’s rooftop solar yields almost nothing in winter.
Please explain how you get to 125,000 wind turbines.
I get a much lower number:
one 10 MW turbine with a capacity factor of 52% produces:
= 45,552 MWh of power per year.
So the required number of turbines is
120 Twh/45,552 MWh =
= 120,000 Gwh/45.552 Gwh
Using your time schedule this would be one turbine every three days.
David Dirkse says
@Hans Some time ago I made these beermat calculations:
see also for Dutch:
and other publications at http://www.davdata.nl
the number of windturbines required largely depends on the conversion efficiency with the storage medium (hydroxen, methane…)
I welcome any comments.
First of all you and Bas are talking about different things. Bas talks about electricity, you about primary energy. Dutch electricity use is about 120 TWh a year, Dutch primary energy use is about 850 TWh a year. You set more ambitious goals than Bas ;-).
It should be noticed that if you go all electric you don’t need to replace all primary energy. For example a typical fossil fuel power plant converts only 40% of the primary energy into useful electricity.
You use outdated data for turbine size and capacity factor. Developments in the renewable energy field go quickly.
Your calculations on storage needs are based on the assumption that a wind turbine works full power on one day and then produces nothing the following two days. You say this is true on average. But that is like shooting left and right of a target and saying you hit it on average. The reality is that land based-wind turbines produce electricity about 70% of the time. It will be more for offshore.
So you cannot determine storage needs solely on the basis of a capacity factor. You will need time series of production and demand to do that.
Furthermore, the Netherlands will not produce power solely by wind power and also not in isolation. Combining wind and PV, international transmission and demand side management will all reduce the need for storage.
Beer mat calculations can be useful to set lower and upper limits. But the trick here is that you make pessimistic assumptions for the lower limit and optimistic assumptions for the upper limit. You make pessimistic assumptions to determine an the upper limit of what is possible. That makes no sense.
Nigel West says
The economics of PtGtP is a big problem as it wastes over 60% of the input energy. If PtGtP were used on a large scale to store surplus wind energy there wouldn’t then be an oversupply to drive wholesale electricity prices down far enough to make PtGtP economic relative to wholesale electricity prices.
I wouldn’t invest my money in such a potentially loss making business.
PtGtP is indeed wasteful, mainly due to the last step of converting gas back to power. It makes more sense to use the gas for heating purposes where it can be used with an efficiency close to 100%.
David Dirkse says
Thank you for this lengthy reply.
The article was written years ago and I will consider an update.
I am not optimistic about wind energy. Bigger turbines need more resources and more space. Also I cannot see what is wrong by declaring that wind turbines on the avarage produce at full capacity for 1 day and produce nothing for 2 days.
And even if they produce 30 out of 31 days a month we still need full backup capacity. Wind energy is always superfluous.
Progress always amounts to less dependency on land and nature. Windmills fail every criterium of progress. Also they destroy nature (the habitat of animals).
My comment was on your claim that the Netherlands would need 125,000 offshore wind turbines to cover all of its energy needs. These would have to be build in 25 years. The Dutch government want to have a ‘mostly renewable’ energy supply in 2050, which is still 33 years away. So you set more ambitious goals than our government.
For your calculations you used old data, did not consider the difference between primary and final energy and assumed that two thirds of the energy consumed should come out of storage and that additional turbines are needed to compensate for storage losses.
The last assumption is based a) on outdated data on capacity factors. b) a misunderstanding of what a capacity factor means.
Your assumption would be correct if wind turbines would work like a base load power plant: either at full power or not at all. In that case a wind turbine would indeed produce power only half the time (or a third of the time if you use your pessimistic data).
Let me explain by a non-wind energy example: Consider a conventional power plant constantly working at 50% of it’s capacity, or a gas peak power plant reacting to demand, on average producing 50% of its’ nameplate capacity, but continuously varying its’ ouput. Both would have a capacity factor of 50%. The first one would need some storage to deal with variations of demand., the second one none at all. So one number for the capacity factor can correspond to completely different types of behavior, which would require different amounts of storage or back-up. I hope this helps you to understand that the capacity factor does not give you the information you need to determine storage needs and you really need a time series analysis to do so.
You introduce a new topic with your 100% back-up claim. This deals with storage power capacity, where before we discussed storage energy capacity.
The need for both storage power and energy capacity can be reduced by international transmission, the combination with photovoltaics and solar thermal, demand side management, storing heat and cold instead of electricity (remember you assume going all electric, so also for heating). You just ignore all these options.
Wind turbines add something to the landscape. You might not like how they look, but that is subjective. I quite like to look at them. Mountain top removal for coal and open pit lignite mining really destroy landscapes forever. Mining and burning coal in power plants kills much more birds per GWh than wind turbines. Offshore wind turbines provide artificial reefs and areas safe from fishing, which all benefits sea wildlife.
Your idea of progress seems a bit limited. I would say that having an energy system that doesn’t cause lung and heart diseases by fine dust, mercury and other conventional pollution and prevents catastrophic climate change is progress.
David Dirkse says
1.Capacity factors are applied only to intermittent sources such as windmills an solar panels which cannot adjust their output to demand.
2.solar panels produce nothing at night and very little in winter. So, they may be ignored if 24/7 energy is required. (look at the statistics of Germany)
3. mining ruins landscaped only temporarily. Good practice is to restore the land afterward.
4. Everything has it’s pro’s and con’s. My guess: fossil fuels beneficts are many time greater then their disadvantages. Yes: combustion engines stink and make noise. But the worst thing that can happen is shortage of energy. With solar and wind on a national scale I fear dramatic changes in our society.
5. I expect a strong re-appreciation of fossil fuels within the next 20 years.
Thanks for your reply.
The quantity “capacity factor” was defined long before renewables were around. They were especially useful for describing the behavior of baseload power plants because in that case, and in that case alone, it also equaled the relative production time. But even if the quantity would have been invented for renewables only it still doesn’t change the fact that it does not give any information on variability and you cannot use it to determine storage needs like you do in your beermat calculation.
2) You are setting up a strawman here. I said Combining wind and solar reduces the need for storage. You react as if I said we should use only photovoltaics.
3) Restoration, if carried out at all, mostly still means a degradation of the landscape and biodiversity. Open lignite mining often replaces unique peat land with almost sterile lakes. In case of mountain top removal restoration means sprinkling some grass seeds on the rubble. Streams keep being blocked, heavy metals keep leaking out. But, who cares, it is not in your backyard.
4) If the stink and noise of combustion engines would be the only thing, everybody could live with it. However, the conventional pollution that actually kills people right now and the catastrophic climate change it causes are not something to be shrugged off.
5) At most a bit of nostalgia, like for steam trains nowadays.
David Dirkse says
[the conventional pollution that actually kills people right now ]
The reality is very different:
if Shell (Exxon, BP) close the valves, we all die. Fossil fuels generate prosperity around the globe on an unprecedented scale.
And the climate? This is my opinion:
(let’s enjoy this warmer period !)
“the moral case for fossil fuels” by Epstein.
You are setting up a straw man again. Nobody wants to switch off fossil fuels overnight. They will gradually be replaced by renewables delivering the same services, but with much less negative side effects. Epstein does more or less the same with a bait and switch between widely available cheap energy and fossil fuels.
Your first link moves into esoterics, which does not lend itself to rational discussion. You second link is a bunch of cartoons, which only illustrate you do not accept climate change science.
Bas Gresnigt says
When you rewrite, use expectations such as 12MW offshore wind turbines which are now under development. As those are higher their capacity factor will be ~60%.
Also realize that offshore implies zero land use, and that NL has 57,000Km2 offshore N-sea (more than our land area of ~41,000km2).
Also that at times of high wind & solar production electricity at the EPEX cost ~1.2cnt/KWh on av. And overproduction periods will increase with more wind & solar.
That consumption will adapt (German alu smelters only operate when power price is low), delivering the renewable gas to other applications; such as PtG plants at car refuel stations, etc.
With such power purchase prices even the 40% efficiency of PtG-storage-GtP delivers prices of ~3cnt/KWh (with equipment, etc) <5cnt/KWh…
no powerplant on earth runs 24/7 and so we already pay for and utilise back-up. nuclear plants get closed for months at a time with no warning but they are backed up with working plants…..often renewable
Francis Legrand says
thanks for this brilliant article that points out facts that are not clearly put on the table in France. Probably because of the thick-skinned French myth regarding the competitivity of the nuclear power.
Bas Gresnigt says
The decommissioning problem is worse in NL where our only NPP, Borssele, now makes losses of ~30% as whole sale prices are ~€30/MWh and it’s marginal costs are €40 to €45/MWh.*)
While the decommissioning fund contains only ~€175mln (after ~43yrs of operation), which is below the official estimated €500mln, which is below the >€1billion needed in USA with similar NPP’s (VY, etc) and those in Germany.
Probably most decommission costs will be socialized via govt subsidies (=general taxes) as the Christen Democrats may enter govt after the recent elections.
*) Info from staff of Borssele.
In addition: It fits with the €200mln bank guarantee which Borssele recently asked and got from its owners (province and local municipalities), which they stated to be enough to continue ~5years, in the hope whole sale prices will increase enough in the mean time (my estimate; slim chance).