Nuclear energy on rise
LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) – The world’s nuclear industry is ready for a “nuclear renaissance”, but it is up to the reactor builders to make it happen.
Industry sources said that constructors must build reactors on schedule and within cost constraints.
“It is up to us now to show the world we can do it, construct reactors on time and within budget,” said Daniel Lipman, senior vice president for nuclear power plants at Westinghouse Electric.
The U.S.-based company is a unit of Toshiba Corporation <6502.T and Shaw Group and half of the world’s operating nuclear plants use Westinghouse technology. A two-year delay and budget overruns at Areva’s nuclear reactor being built in Finland is seen as one example of why the “renaissance” has turned into a long tedious process as the market declined. The price of spot uranium hit a record of $136 per pound in June last year, soaring from just $7 in 2000 due to a revival in interest in nuclear energy — thanks to high oil prices and global efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions. But since June 2007 the weekly spot price has slipped to $64.5 with many industry sources arguing that there will be plenty of time for miners, as well as other players in the fuel cycle, to adjust to the increase in demand for their services. Westinghouse Electric’s Lipman, who is responsible for overseeing the construction of eight new reactors being built in China and the United States, is confident there would be more. “We are getting very close to announce another one, we are in the final negotiations,” he told Reuters at a World Nuclear Association (WNA) conference in London this week. There are currently around 440 reactors operating and some 30 nuclear plants under construction in the world. CHINESE EXPANSION China alone aims to expand output to produce 60 gigawatt by 2020, from 9 gigawatts, and to meet this target it would have to build four new reactors a year through 2015. “I sometimes can’t sleep at night, we have to make sure we execute,” Lipman said, adding that the industry suffers from a shortage of trained people and increasing commodity prices. However, processors who convert uranium ore into nuclear fuel, are more relaxed. “I am very optimistic that we are going to see continued new build,” said James Graham, president of ConverDyn, one of three firms in the world that can convert uranium. ConverDyn, owned by Honeywell International Inc. and privately held General Atomics, is expanding and hopes to make an announcement about the start-date of its new 3,000-tonnes per year European plant next year. “The momentum is there, people are concerned about global warming and high cost of energy, security of supply and self-sufficiency,” Graham said at the conference. The conversion price had been flat at around $12.25 a tonne in North America and $14 in Europe this year, but if demand from reactors increased this would exert upward pressure and prices would also be supported by rising energy costs, he said. “We could perhaps see prices rising from $12 to $15.” Uranium ore, or yellowcake, is sent to conversion plants to create a gas, uranium hexafluoride. The gas goes to enrichment facilities, which increase the concentrate of uranium isotope U-235, which releases energy when it splits inside a power reactor’s core. European-based Urenco, which is now setting up a plant in the United States and U.S.-based USEC said they were ready to expand production rapidly if the market demanded. “I think you will continue to see strong prices of SWU (separative work units)…high uranium prices add to enrichment demand,” said Robert Van Namen, senior vice president for uranium enrichment at USEC. SWU prices have risen to $157, from $90 in 1999. This year and up to 2010 the market should see a surplus of uranium, said analyst Max Layton at Macquarie Bank. But in 2011 the uranium market was seen turning into deficit, lasting for three years as new reactor build would put pressure on demand via the ordering of start-up material for reactors coming on-stream in 2014 and 2017. President Gerald Grandey of the world’s largest miner of uranium, Cameco, said the long-term fundamentals for the industry look over-whelmingly positive. “In the short term, maybe the next three years, there will be volatility in a thin spot market … but the fundamentals in the long-term market are very good,” Grandey said.