Germany’s Nuclear Shutdown, Energy Security Unhinged

  • Germany’s Nuclear Shutdown, Energy Security Unhinged
  • MIT ~ Shutting Down Nuclear Power Could Increase Air Pollution
  • Clean Core and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Partner on ANEEL Fuel for PHWRs
  • Japan Adopts National Strategy On Nuclear Fusion As Competition Intensifies
  • GAO ~ Nuclear Fusion; Fundamental Challenges Still Need To Be Overcome
  • DOE ~ RFI for Fusion Energy Neutron Sources
  • NRC Decision Separates Fusion Energy Regulation from Nuclear Fission

Germany’s Nuclear Shutdown, Energy Security Unhinged

Last Three Plants To Go Offline, Despite Last-Minute Appeals For Extensions

  • Critics have called the action a case of “energy security suicide” citing the unreliable nature of renewable energy on the grid and increased reliance on coal including lignite.
  • Critics also argue that switching off reactors will deprive country of zero CO2 emission power and increase reliance on fossil fuel plants that contribute to climate change and significant increases in air pollution along with increased cases of respiratory disease and deaths.
  • Germany will fail to meet it climate change commitments as a result of shutting down all of its nuclear reactors.

(NucNet contributed to this report) ) Germany has permanently shut down its final three commercial nuclear power reactors, making good on the country’s delayed nuclear phaseout even amid Europe’s energy crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and last-minute appeals for reactor lifetimes to be extended as a response.

The Isar-2, Neckarwestheim-2 and Emsland nuclear plants make up some 6% of the country’s total energy mix – down from almost 12% in 2021 when more units were operating – or roughly 4,055 MW (net) of capacity.

The final three reactors had been scheduled for closure at the end of 2022 along with the rest of the country’s nuclear fleet. Last October German chancellor Olaf Scholz proposed to extend their lifespan until mid-April, citing the supply concerns caused by the war and the resulting Western sanctions.

Lawmakers approved the extension on the condition the plants, which began operation more than 30 years ago, would cease operating by mid-April of this year.

Shutdown Will Be ‘Dramatic Mistake’

The German government dismissed calls for a last-minute delay in shutting down the three plants. Opposition politicians and even some members of the Free Democrats, a libertarian party that is part of Scholz’s governing alliance, demanded a reprieve for the remaining reactors.

Scholz spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann said, “The nuclear phaseout by April 15, that’s this Saturday, is a done deal.”

Critics argue that switching off the nuclear plants will deprive Germany of a source of zero CO2 emissions power  and will require the country to keep operating fossil fuel plants that contribute to climate change.

Wolfgang Kubicki, deputy leader of the Free Democrats, said in an interview with the Funke Media Group that Germany has the safest nuclear power plants worldwide and switching them off would be “a dramatic mistake” with painful economic and ecological consequences.

Other members of his party have called for the nuclear plants at least to be maintained as a fallback in case they are needed at a later date.

Environment ministry spokesperson Bastian Zimmermann, speaking for the Scholz school of energy policy, countered, without evidence, that doing that would be both illegal and costly.  The economy ministry dismissed concerns that Germany will not be able to meet its energy needs without the nuclear power plants.

Zimmermann said the three reactors last underwent safety checks in 2009 and such inspections normally need to occur every 10 years. The requirement was only suspended due to the shutdown planned for the end of 2022. Any further lifetime extension for the plants would require comprehensive security checks again. It appears that she is hoisting the threat of bureaucratic barriers invented by the government to stop the government from keeping the reactors open.

Additionally, Environmental Ministry spokesperson Beate Baron said recent studies showed Germany would be able to maintain its power supply with coal and gas-fired power plants and renewables such as wind and solar, while remaining a net exporter of electricity.

All German nuclear power plants that had gone into operation up to and including 1980 were shut down immediately after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.

These were: Biblis-A and Biblis-B, Brunsbüttel, Isar-1, Neckarwestheim-1, Unterweser and Philippsburg-1. The Krümmel nuclear power plant was already off the grid at the time. The Grohnde, Gundremmingen-C and Brokdorf nuclear power plants were shut down on 31 December 2021.Until March 2011 Germany generated one-quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy with 17 reactors.

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MIT ~ Shutting Down Nuclear Power Could Increase Air Pollution

climate_change_carbon_taxMIT researchers estimate that if reactors are retired, polluting energy sources that fill the gap could cause more than 5,000 premature deaths.

(MIT News Office) Nearly 20 percent of today’s electricity in the United States comes from nuclear power. The U.S. has the largest nuclear fleet in the world, with 92 reactors scattered around the country. Many of these power plants have run for more than half a century and are approaching the end of their expected lifetimes.

Policymakers are debating whether to retire the aging reactors or reinforce their structures to continue producing nuclear energy, which many consider a low-carbon alternative to climate-warming coal, oil, and natural gas.

MIT researchers say there’s another factor to consider in weighing the future of nuclear power: air quality. In addition to being a low carbon-emitting source, nuclear power is relatively clean in terms of the air pollution it generates. Without nuclear power, how would the pattern of air pollution shift, and who would feel its effects?

The MIT team took on these questions in a new study appearing today in Nature Energy. They lay out a scenario in which every nuclear power plant in the country has shut down, and consider how other sources such as coal, natural gas, and renewable energy would fill the resulting energy needs throughout an entire year.  (Link to article abstract -full text behind a firewall)

Their analysis reveals that air pollution would increase, as coal, gas, and oil sources ramp up to compensate for nuclear power’s absence. This in itself may not be surprising, but the team has put numbers to the prediction, estimating that the increase in air pollution would have serious health effects, resulting in an additional 5,200 pollution-related deaths over a single year.

If, however, more renewable energy sources become available to supply the energy grid, as they are expected to by the year 2030, air pollution would be curtailed, though not entirely. The team found that even under this heartier renewable scenario, there is still a slight increase in air pollution in some parts of the country, resulting in a total of 260 pollution-related deaths over one year.

When they looked at the populations directly affected by the increased pollution, they found that Black or African American communities — a disproportionate number of whom live near fossil-fuel plants — experienced the greatest exposure.

“This adds one more layer to the environmental health and social impacts equation when you’re thinking about nuclear shutdowns, where the conversation often focuses on local risks due to accidents and mining or long-term climate impacts,” says lead author Lyssa Freese, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

“In the debate over keeping nuclear power plants open, air quality has not been a focus of that discussion,” adds study author Noelle Selin, a professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) and EAPS.

“What we found was that air pollution from fossil fuel plants is so damaging, that anything that increases it, such as a nuclear shutdown, is going to have substantial impacts, and for some people more than others.”

The study’s MIT-affiliated co-authors also include Principal Research Scientist Sebastian Eastham and Guillaume Chossière SM ’17, PhD ’20, along with Alan Jenn of the University of California at Davis. This study was supported, in part, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Clean Core and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Partner on Advanced Nuclear Fuel Development

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and Clean Core Thorium Energy (“Clean Core”) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to further the development and deployment of Clean Core’s advanced nuclear fuel called the “ANEEL Fuel.” This strategic partnership creates a framework under which CNL will support Clean Core’s critical activities, including R&D and licensing.

ANEEL Fuel bundle for PHWRClean Core’s proprietary ANEEL fuel technology (fuel bundle right) leverages thorium and high assay low enriched Uranium (HALEU), and aims to improve the economics and safety of CANDU reactors and Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) globally, while increasing proliferation resistance and reducing waste.

Clean Core expects that when ANEEL Fuel is commercially ready in 2025, it can offer existing PHWRs worldwide next-generation performance and cost advantages. Canada has the world’s largest fleet of PHWR reactors.

“Our strategic partnership with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories will help accelerate the commercialization of our ANEEL Fuel, with the potential to make reactors cleaner, more cost effective, and further improve safety,” said Mehul Shah, CEO of Clean Core.

“We look forward to partnering with Clean Core on the development and deployment of its advanced nuclear fuel technology, which has the potential to boost the performance and economics of reactors worldwide,” said Dr. Jeff Griffin, CNL’s Vice-President of Science and Technology.

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Japan Adopts National Strategy On Nuclear Fusion As Competition Intensifies

types of fusion imageAccording to the Japan Times, the government has adopted its first-ever national strategy on nuclear fusion, highlighting the need to create a domestic industry in the field, as competition to develop and commercialize fusion power heats up around the world.

The strategy calls for the wider participation of the private sector in research and development of fusion energy, considered the ultimate energy source free of carbon dioxide emissions.

Japan has been a major contributor to International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a 35-year international research collaboration that aims to start fusion tests in 2035. Many Japanese scientists say the commercialization of fusion power is still decades away. They are aiming to achieve commercial electricity generation in around 2050, with fusion only becoming a viable climate solution in the latter half of the century.

However, the environment surrounding fusion research has been changing rapidly over the last few years, with major investors in the US, UK, and China  pouring billions of dollars into private-sector projects that promise to get commercial reactors up and running much sooner than ITER. The UKAEA targets its first prototype being in operation by 20240 and many of the fusion startups say they will succeed by the mid-2030s.

The cabinet report says Japan should take a “multifaceted approach” that includes creating and supporting homegrown fusion energy industries, not just participating in ITER. It is a case of either getting going faster with fusion or being left behind.

Japan will seek to accelerate industry-academia collaboration, with the National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology, better known as QST, playing a central role.

In addition, the government will focus on fusion energy education at Japanese universities to develop specialists in the field and seek to recruit talent from such institutions overseas and from other academic disciplines. The strategy is apparently silent on government support for fusion energy commercial startups.

Under the strategy, the government will establish a fusion industry council by March next year to develop fusion related industries, as well as to draw up guidelines for ensuring the safety of fusion technology.

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GAO ~ Nuclear Fusion; Fundamental Challenges Still Need To Be Overcome

gao fusion report(NucNet) Fundamental challenges must be overcome to achieve commercial nuclear fusion with “misalignments” between private and public sector efforts and regulatory uncertainty two key areas that need to be addressed, a report says.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says projections of the timeline for the deployment of nuclear fusion reactors, which are “a potentially transformative technology”, range from 10 years to several decades. (Full text PDF file)

The report offers a number of policy proposals to address fusion challenges and accelerate fusion development, including the closer alignment of public and private sector fusion efforts, the sharing of assets for fusion development, and the engagement of the public in decision-making processes regarding fusion energy.

One area of misalignment between public and private sectors is research priorities, the report says. Public sector efforts prioritize basic science, but fusion energy development requires an additional emphasis on technology and engineering research.

Regulatory uncertainty could also slow development of fusion energy, but developing regulations to ensure safety without constraining development is difficult. Doing so may require significant public engagement, but little is known about public perception of fusion energy in the US.

The report says that despite decades of research and recent promising developments, fusion science has still not achieved net energy gain. Net energy gain essentially means producing more energy through fusion reactions than the amount of energy put into the system to start the reaction.

For that goal to be met, researchers must improve their understanding of burning plasma, discover materials that can better withstand fusion conditions, overcome complex problems in systems engineering and address concerns regarding the supply, safety and security of tritium fuel. Further, a limited workforce and limited suppliers pose potential problems for fusion development.

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DOE ~ RFI for Fusion Prototype Neutron Sources

The Office of Science in the Department of Energy (DOE) invites interested parties to provide input on potential technological approaches to meet the needs of the Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program for a Fusion Prototypic Neutron Source (FPNS) and on potential ways to accelerate the construction and delivery of such a facility, including partnerships with the private sector.

Responses to the RFI must be received by May 11, 2023. Questions may be submitted to: or to Daniel Clark at (240) 780-6529.

Note to Readers: The American Nuclear Society Nuclear Newswire for March 29, 2023, has a plain English summary and additional background information on the DOE initiative.

how fusion works

Scope of the Request for Information

The scientific and engineering demonstration of fusion energy will require mastering materials science and performance issues, particularly those associated with materials degradation due to bombardment by the energetic (14.1 MeV) deuterium-tritium (D-T) fusion neutrons. This performance degradation provides the basis for and is one of the single largest inherent limiting factors for the economic, safety, and environmental attractiveness of fusion energy.

As such, the FES program places a high priority on gaining an improved understanding of the science of materials degradation due to fusion neutron bombardment, particularly as it pertains to enabling the development of next-generation, high-performance materials for future fusion devices.

Managing this fusion neutron-induced property degradation is one of the most significant scientific “grand challenges” facing fusion energy development. Although considerable progress has been made exploring the resistance of fusion materials to neutron-based displacement damage with the use of tools available today, such as fission test reactors, ion beams, and computer simulation, the current knowledge base for bulk mechanical and physical property degradation in a realistic fusion environment with simultaneous transmutation effects is limited.

The 2021 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report, Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid emphasized the need for materials research and a neutron irradiation capability to enable a Fusion Pilot Plant (FPP), including facilities to provide a limited-volume prototypic neutron source for testing of advanced structural and functional materials and to assess neutron-degradation limits of Reduced Activation Ferritic Martensitic (RAFM) alloys beyond 5 MW-year m-2.

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NRC Decision Separates Fusion Energy Regulation from Nuclear Fission

nrc sealThe Fusion Industry Association reports on its website that on Friday, April 14, the five Commissioners of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced in a unanimous vote that fusion energy would be regulated in the United States under the same regulatory regime as particle accelerators. (NRC Press Release)

Such an approach, listed in the United States under the byproduct materials regulatory regime (10 CFR Part 30), would separate the regulatory oversight of fusion from the utilization facilities regime (10 CFR Parts 50 & 52) that regulate nuclear fission energy.

This is an important decision that will give fusion developers the regulatory certainty they need to innovate while they grow fusion energy into a viable new energy source, while also most effectively protecting the safety, security, and health of the public.

The NRC staff, in the Options Paper (SECY-2023-0001) put forward in January, had already asserted that the NRC’s byproduct material framework “would provide a technology-neutral basis for the licensing and oversight of the broad array of fusion energy systems currently under development.”

This decision by the Commissioners affirms Option 2 from that paper as the preferred option. Further, it outlines that there will only be a limited-scope rulemaking to ensure that the Agreement states are prepared to uniformly regulate fusion.

While the ultimate authority for fusion regulation resides with the NRC, under the agreement state program, the States, rather than the NRC, will shoulder the largest responsibility for regulating commercial fusion facilities in the future.

Furthermore, the Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM), which outlines how the Commissioners expect NRC staff to implement this decision, gives guidance that directs the staff to work with agreement states to look forward and notify the Commission about the scale and regulatory impacts of new fusion devices coming close to application and license.

NRC Chair Christopher T. Hanson said, “Dozens of companies are developing pilot-scale commercial fusion designs, and while the technology’s precise future in the United States is uncertain, the agency should provide as much regulatory certainty as possible given what we know today. Licensing near-term fusion energy systems under a byproduct material framework will protect public health and safety with a technology-neutral, scalable regulatory approach.”

NRC staff will begin a limited revision to materials licensing regulations, including consideration of whether the revision should create a new rule category specifically for fusion energy systems. The Commission also directed the staff to take several related actions, including expanding materials license guidance to cover fusion systems nationwide.

Fusion systems would generate electricity from the energy released when hydrogen atoms are combined to form helium; current nuclear reactors use the splitting, or fission, of uranium atoms. The staff had earlier determined fusion systems fall outside of the requirements to be regulated as nuclear reactors.

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