Joined: 05 September 2004
European chemicals industry could be wiped out in a decade, says Ineos boss
"Jim Ratcliffe, the man at the centre of last year's Grangemouth dispute, writes to EC president warning that 6m jobs are at risk"
However Ineos the company need not a flimsy reed being blown around in the wind, to a large extent it is in control of its own destiny. I have written to Richard Longden of Ineos in regard to finding ways of developing Generation IV nuclear (see next post). I have received no reply. Other people I know have contacted Tata Steel in the UK.
Government aren't good at leading this sort of process. Engineering service companies and consultancies, like AMEC I am told are ready and willing to get on board in terms of new nuclear innovation. However they don't generally work best without having a customer, with needs and wants to fulfil, to set the focus and the engineering requirements. The customers (energy intensive firms like Tata Steel, Ineos and Anglesey Aluminium etc) must tell us (the engineers) exactly what they need now and will need in the future to grow and expand their businesses.
Joined: 05 September 2004
Letter to Richard Longden of Ineos (sent 6th January 2014)
Dear Richard Longden,
As you know Jim Ratcliffe (of Ineos) has said in a recent BBC interview that Hinkley Point C prices are too expensive. I completely and utterly agree with him. However the only way I see us getting cheaper forms of nuclear power is to get off the fence and develop those cheaper forms of nuclear power for example Molten Salt Reactors. No established nuclear industry players want to abandon ridiculously expensive and over complex Gen III nuclear technologies, because they are locked in. Therefore it must be the role of outside players with an interest in cheaper long term energy prices to 'break the ice' on this research and development direction. i.e. to treat the existing nuclear industry as contractors, rather than technological demigods that can set their own policy direction. Then task the nuclear industry as contractors to develop process heat supply and electricity generation solutions that the real economy needs and at a price they can afford.
Developing Molten salt nuclear reactors will require the expertise of chemists experienced in Halide Molten Salt Chemistry. Would your company be interested in joining a consortium to build molten salt reactors in the UK (see detail below if you do)?
The aim is to have commercially built molten salt nuclear reactors at a capital cost of £2500 per kW (2012 prices) by 2035.
I have been attempting to generate a conversation about re-tasking the Wylfa Magnox Nuclear site and its workforce by locating phase 1 of UK Generation IV nuclear development programme there. This programme would run at Wylfa until 2025. The plan would involve re-tasking NDA assets so that they could be used in a better way, including meeting the strategic interests of the UK in maintaining a viable nuclear skilled workforce in North Wales.
If they are built Horizon Nuclear Power's Wylfa Newydd ABWR's, will start operation at the earliest in the mid-2020's, by this time around half the current nuclear workforce in North Wales will have reached retirement age, and may others may have left the industry. It will take 5 to 7 years to train up new vocationally trained staff for the nuclear industry (or indeed other industries like yours) and there are no major nuclear fission based projects currently funded, between now and 2025, to meet this function. Decommissioning activities will be limited and are not the best training for the job of actually operating and maintaining a nuclear power plant.
If you read William Nuttall's book "Nuclear Renaissance", on p.75, on the topic of nuclear skills he says...
"Of all the factors that shape the future of the nuclear renaissance in western Europe and North America only one has the status of potential 'show stopper'. This factor is not the safety of nuclear power , its environmental consequences or its economics: it is the supply of engineers, scientists and skilled trades needed the industry operating and properly regulated. The age profile of the industry is dangerously skewed towards those facing retirement, and not those seeking new challenges. The skills shortage is not just an obstacle to new build, It is also a concern for the future of the nuclear power industry in all scenarios, including phase out and decommissioning"
It is clear from what William Nuttall says later that the HSE (now ONR) has been monitoring this serious problem for many years now.
Also see the slightly out of date report by the Cogent Sector Skills Council
"FUTURE SKILLS FOR THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY IN NORTH WALES (Wylfa and Trawsfynydd)"
[This report envisages new Nuclear Horizon Nuclear Power Reactors being attached to the grid in 2020. Even if the new Gen III reactors are built at Wylfa they won't be grid connected before 2025. If you read this report and shift the dates a bit you will see the critical problem the UK faces in maintaining its nuclear skills base.]
In terms of my provisional plan I want to look into how the Wylfa Magnox nuclear reactor may be life extended to operate for five more years from 2017 to 2021 (to allow it to reach a 50 year operating life, like some of the other Magnox reactors). The existing fuel for the Magnox reactor is no longer available, therefore the only option that can be now followed to do this would be to re-engineer the Magnox fuel rods that are currently used in the reactor, so that they use 3 AGR style stainless steel fuel pins instead (an idea I encountered as a 19 year old mechanical engineering student at Simon Engineering Laboratories, Manchester in 1985/1986).
Uranium oxide with the right enrichment could be used, the fuel currently used to fuel the AGR fleet of nuclear reactor. The other alternative I favour is to use a Thorium-Plutonium sintered MOX fuel. This is because I would like to use a part load of Thorium-Plutonium MOX fuel (sometime during 2017 to 2021), to start breeding enough Uranium-233 nuclear fuel to be able to start a smaller Generation IV molten salt thorium test nuclear reactor running for 5 years from 2021 to 2025. The plan would also involve using the Wylfa Magnox reactor for low neutron flux nuclear materials testing.
Such work is highly time constrained and would have to be a major collaborative project relying in on the wealth of existing expertise and techniques already available in the nuclear industry. It would need to involve the collaboration of all the main UK nuclear organisations the NDA, Magnox Sites, NNL, Urenco, DECC, Anglesey Energy Island, Stakeholders of the Wylfa Magnox Reactor Site etc., with the oversight coming from the ONR. It would need a major industrial backer with the project management skills necessary to make this happen to time and to budget.
During the 10 year period 2016 to 2025 the Wylfa Magnox Nuclear Reactor site would serve wider training functions in the wider energy industry as well, perhaps in collaboration with educational institutions such as Coleg Menai and Bangor/Manchester/Liverpool Universities. E.g. particularly in regards to heat transfer systems development work using various gases, water/steam, molten salts and liquid metals (such as lead).
The key finance for the plan would come from being awarded an above market strike price for the nuclear electricity generated from the life extended Wylfa Magnox reactor, say a strike price of £75 per MWh. There would also be smaller amounts of income from training services, nuclear materials testing and from private sector nuclear development consortia looking to develop components and sub-systems for Generation IV nuclear reactors.
The above plan would not utilise the full capacity of the turbine generators to generate electricity using existing assets based at the site. Two of the 250 MW turbine generators would be idle for the entire 10 year period (2016-2025). In this regard I notice that Anglesey Aluminium Metals Ltd are planning to build a 800 MWt (300 MWe) biomass electricity generation plant on the other side of Anglesey in the very near future.
It seems to me that another route for your investment would be to build two 200MWt circulating fluidised bed (CFB) boilers at the Wylfa Magnox nuclear site. These two boilers could be used to drive one of the existing 250 MWe turbine generators at Wylfa (with an efficiency of at least 33%). The other spare turbine generator could be powered in the same way or perhaps by using a natural gas boiler for peaking work if LNG was later supplied to Anglesey Island.
I suppose the exact strategy you will wish to follow in regards to biomass electricity generation will depend on how much electricity Anglesey Aluminium Metal Ltd anticipates using over the decade 2016 to 2025, and the relative price that this electricity can be generated for from Biomass at the Wylfa site, compared to your current plans. It seems to me that the only major new assets to be depreciated (over 10 years) would be the boiler set chosen. Operating costs will be greater at the Wylfa site for some things and less for others, and this may well balance itself out.
At £45 per MWh price for electricity from the biomass plant at 80% utilisation, the income would be approximately £79 million per year. If both 250 MWe turbine generators were driven the income would be twice this at £158 million per year for 10 years.
The income from the Wylfa Magnox nuclear reactor at a strike price of £75 per MWh and 70% utilisation would be £195 Million per year over 5 years. This would be a total income from nuclear generated electricity of £975 million over 5 years. These combined resources can be used to fund a major par of the build and running costs of a Generation IV molten salt nuclear research reactor at the site.
At the moment the Energy Solutions management team (managing the site on Behalf of the NDA) make a net loss each year in operating the Wylfa site, now that there is only one nuclear reactor opporational: the running costs of the Wylfa plant is expected to be £84.1 million next year, with income from electricity estimated to be 73.6 million. Higher losses have been made in previous years.
Previous years business plans are available on the NDA site.
It seems to me that your company could form the major part of a new consortium bid to manage and run the Wylfa site from the beginning of 2016 to 2025; just as Energy Solutions do now (at a loss to the tax payer). The idea being that the NDA would continue to own the site and Magnox Sites would continue to hold the nuclear site license. DECC have recently written to me saying:
"The NDA would be willing to have discussions about how its assets, including its land, can best be used in support of the UK's strategic needs and enhanced value for money for the UK taxpayer. Before any decision is made, the NDA would have to discuss the issue with DECC as its sponsor department before any commitments can be made."
In advance of this project millions of pounds will need to be spent re-engineering Wylfa's fuel rods to contain 3 AGR style stainless steel fuel pins. Then there needs to be a program of testing these fuel rods in the existing Wylfa Magnox reactor in 2015 (using AGR style low enriched Uranium Oxide pellet fuel and/or a lower enrichment derivative of the Thorium-Plutonium MOX currently being prepared by the UK's National Nuclear Laboratory so Thor Energy can test it in Norway's Heavy water moderated Halden Thermal Neutron Reactor)
There is a Technology Strategy Board brokering event called "DEVELOPING THE CIVIL NUCLEAR POWER SUPPLY CHAIN" to which I will try and build a consortia together to undertake this initial engineering work that would allow the rest of the plan to proceed from 2016/2017 onwards (50% to 60% funding would be available).
Producing a new fuel rod and fuel pellet design in a year, ready for testing in 2015 in the Wylfa Magnox Reactor (assuming it is still running) would be a tough deadline to meet given that a safety case for the ONR has to be prepared at the same time. Less than 1% of the fuel rods would need to be changed over to new the fuel rod and fuel pellet design in 2015 for the trial, if the ONR gives permission for this to go ahead. Samples of the new fuel could be extracted from the reactor at three month intervals and then sent for analysis. Uranium Oxide fuel is a well understood fuel and thorium oxide (making up 90% or more of the Thorium-Plutonium MOX) has better properties in terms of higher thermal conductivity, higher melting point and comparable fission gas release. Work on developing an appropriate Thorium-Plutonium MOX could perhaps be done in collaboration with the experience and knowledge gained by Thor Energy, in Norway.
Given the potential return on investment in terms of jobs and income for Anglesey and the surrounding areas of North Wales this seems to me like a plan worth pursuing further, with support from the highest levels of government.
I hope you will consider my email and wish to collaborate in a consortium to run the Wylfa Nuclear site on behalf of DECC, the NDA and Magnox sites, from 2016 to 2025, and in doing so help found a Generation IV nuclear development facility. In turn this may help the adoption of Thorium based nuclear fuels by the nuclear industry and in so doing make the case for mining rare earth metal ore deposits containing significant amounts of Thorium.
James Arathoon MIET