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Energy debate continues

Posted 03/11/2011 by sevans

Somewhat surprisingly, given recent history, Japan is cooperating to build two nuclear reactors in Vietnam. The prime ministers of the two countries recently met in Japan to sign an agreement promoting cooperation between their countries including the nuclear building project. And there are also plans to develop the rare earth metals sector based on mines in the Dong Pao region of Vietnam.

In Europe, the nuclear industry is receiving mixed signals too. In the Czech Republic, tenders have been requested for two new reactors to be built at the Temelin nuclear power station in the southern part of the country. The final winner of the tender process, which will see US-based Westinghouse, Russia’s Atomstroiexport and France’s Areva competing for the €20bn project, is expected to be announced in 2013. When completed, the new plants will bring the proportion of nuclear power in total Czech power generation to 50%. There are also believed to be plans for further nuclear plant construction.

At the other end of the nuclear spectrum, Belgium has become the latest European country to indicate that it will be closing down all its nuclear generating capacity from 2015. The six political parties that are seeking to form the next Belgian government are also looking at how they plan to fill the gap left in the country’s generating capacity. The operator of Belgium’s nuclear power stations Electabel has pointed out that the move will result in high energy costs, environmental problems and an increasing dependency on foreign energy supplies.

In the UK, the slow process to increase nuclear generating capacity has passed one test ordered by the EU regarding the safety of existing facilities. The nuclear plants operated by EDF energy have all passed a stress test instigated following Japan’s Fukushima incident earlier this year. EDF has said the tests also applied to its proposed new reactor design for the reactor to be built at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, which also passed.

While some progress is being made of alternative energy development in the UK, however, the development of solar energy took another blow last week when the government reduced tariff rates for photovoltaic installations. Somewhat strangely, one of the reasons given was that solar energy is not appropriate for the UK climate. There must have been a lot of head-scratching over this reason since Germany has a very similar climate yet it is still a world leader in this field.

Certainly there are a number of problems in this sector as witnessed by the recent failure of US companies building PV systems and production cutbacks announced by European manufacturers, but these are claimed to be due to ramped-up Chinese production being dumped on world markets.

These problems do not demonstrate a failure of the solar approach, otherwise why would Latin America be so keen to join the solar revolution, particularly in terms of utility-scale installations?

It is almost tedious to repeat but the solution to the world’s ever-increasing energy demand will involve a combination of the all the alternatives available, not just wind power and nuclear or shale gas and carbon capture at coal fired power stations, but everything from algal biofuels to PV installations in high-rise buildings.

We ignore all these potential solutions at our peril, after all what will you do when the lights go out?

Neil Eisberg – Editor

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