Iraq: Don’t ‘Politicize’ Electricity, Iraq Minister Urges as Summer Nears

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Don’t ‘Politicize’ Electricity, Iraq Minister Urges as Summer Nears

Wednesday, 15 May, 2019 – 10:30
Iraq’s Minister of Electricity Luay al-Khatteeb. (Getty Images)
Asharq Al-Awsat
With temperatures rising on both the weather and security fronts across the region, Iraq’s freshman electricity minister is warning that politicizing his country’s power sector could have ripple effects around the world.

“Electricity is a national security issue,” Luay al-Khateeb told AFP in a wide-ranging interview at the ministry’s headquarters in Baghdad.

“In the end, any political, economic or security crisis in Iraq will affect the whole region — and the global economy will be open to threat.”

“We’re urging for this file not to be politicized.”

Khateeb, a 51-year-old energy expert, was appointed minister in October with a mandate to revamp Iraq’s grid, which was already ailing before it was further crippled by the ISIS group.

But he faces a pair of formidable political challenges to a typically dry, technical portfolio: the threat of renewed protests and escalating US pressure on energy-supplier Iran.

Demonstrations erupted in 2018 across Iraq against poor services, including the measly few hours of state-provided electricity per day.

This summer will be a de facto referendum on the government´s progress.

Khateeb, optimistic, said his ministry had revived out-of-service stations, fixed transmission lines, and brought temporary generators to battered areas including Mosul that ISIS held in the north.

“On October 25, the week I took office, electricity generation sat at between 9.5 to 10 GW. It is now at 15 GW,” Khateeb said.

Most Iraqi provinces, he added, “will receive no less than 20 hours of electricity per day. This, to be honest, is a level of production the country hasn’t seen in years.”

In the medium term, the ministry is developing solar power, gas-capturing capabilities, and energy deals with neighbors.

It signed contracts worth 700 million euro ($785 million) with Germany’s Siemens last month, amid expectations of similar deals with American rival General Electric.

Around a third of Iraq’s electricity relies on Iran, through 28 million cubic meters (990 cubic feet) of gas piped in to feed stations or the direct import of up to 1,300 megawatts of Iranian-produced electricity.

When Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran last year, it granted Iraq temporary exemptions until late June.

Khateeb declined to say what would happen if the waiver was not again extended.

“I’m not in the business of making predictions, but what I ask for from world powers is a little reasonableness so we can live in peace on this planet,” he told AFP.

Tensions have ramped up between Washington and Tehran, with Baghdad often caught in the middle.

Iraqi government sources say the US is pressuring Baghdad to partner with American companies including General Electric, ExxonMobil and Honeywell as it weans off Iranian energy.

Khateeb acknowledged foreign embassies were pushing for their interests in Iraq’s power sector, but said Baghdad would try to steer clear of the politics.

“The truth is we don’t want to be a scapegoat in conflicts that will negatively affect regional security, and in turn the global economy,” he said.

Besides the ticking clocks of the Iraqi street and geopolitical tensions, Khateeb admitted pressure from within the government itself.

He said he had “inherited a bureaucracy” and was often asked for favors or employment opportunities.

Asked whether he, like Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, kept his resignation letter close at hand, Khateeb sounded determined.

“One needs to have a thick skin,” he said.

“Either I focus on the politicians, or I focus on the work.”

India: Decision on oil purchase after Lok sabha polls, India tells Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Decision on oil purchase after Lok sabha polls, India tells Iran

The US decision to end exemptions to sanctions on Iranian oil imports on May 2 has hit India.

BUSINESS Updated: May 14, 2019 23:46 IST

Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Tehran was among New Delhi’s top three energy suppliers, providing 23.6 million tonnes of oil last year, or about 10% of the country’s energy needs.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj informed her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on Tuesday that a decision on purchasing Iranian oil in the face of US sanctions will be made after the conclusion of India’s general election, people familiar with developments said.

Iranian oil exports and Tehran’s approach to recent developments in the region, including tensions between Iran and the US over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iranian nuclear deal, figured in the discussions between Zarif and Swaraj.

Zarif arrived in New Delhi late on Monday for a previously unscheduled visit to lobby for India’s support against the backdrop of the Iran-US tensions. He last visited India in January, and the current trip was organised at short notice at Zarif’s request, the people cited above said.

When Zarif raised the purchase of oil from Iran, Swaraj reiterated India’s position that a decision will be made after the general elections while keeping in mind the country’s “commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests”, the people said.

The US decision to end exemptions to sanctions on Iranian oil imports on May 2 has hit India. Tehran was among New Delhi’s top three energy suppliers, providing 23.6 million tonnes of oil last year, or about 10% of the country’s energy needs.

The sanctions were imposed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Zarif briefed the Indian side on Iran’s approach to developments in the region, including on JCPOA, and also reviewed bilateral cooperation.

The outreach to India, he explained, was part of Iran’s consultations with key countries, including Russia, China, Turkmenistan and Iraq, over the past few days.

The impact of the sanctions on Iranian oil exports, the country’s main revenue earner, prompted Tehran to threaten last week that it would roll back its compliance with the nuclear deal.

Zarif referred to President Hassan Rouhani’s announcement on May 8 about Iran keeping larger amounts of enriched uranium and heavy water, instead of exporting the excess as required under the JCPOA. He also mentioned the 60-day timeline given to the EU3 (France, Germany, the UK) and other parties to the JCPOA (China and Russia) for restoring oil exports and banking channels.

The Indian side, the people said, reiterated its position that New Delhi would like all parties to the JCPOA to continue to fulfil their commitments and engage constructively and resolve issues peacefully through dialogue.

Both sides expressed satisfaction at the operationalisation of an interim contract between India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) and Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) for the development Chabahar port. They also discussed Afghanistan and agreed to “maintain close coordination on the evolving situation”, the people said.

First Published: May 14, 2019 22:32 IST

China’s energy consumption structure continues to optimize: report

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHINA’S SHINE NEWS NETWORK)

 

China’s energy consumption structure continues to optimize: report

Xinhua

China saw an optimized energy consumption structure last year with an increase of clean energy, an industry report showed.

Consumption of clean energy, including natural gas, hydropower, nuclear power and wind power, accounted for 22.1 percent of energy consumed last year, up 1.3 percentage points from 2017, China Electric Power Planning & Engineering Institute said in a report.

Coal consumption accounted for 59 percent of the total energy consumption in 2018, down 1.4 percentage points year on year, according to the report.

Total energy consumption reached 4.64 billion tonnes of standard coal, a year-on-year growth of 3.3 percent, the fastest growth since 2014, the report said.

The report also predicted that China’s energy consumption will continue the clean and efficient trend in 2019.

Jordan Reviews Gas Agreement With Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Jordan Reviews Gas Agreement with Israel

Tuesday, 30 April, 2019 – 08:00
Jordan’s King Abdullah II. (Reuters)
Amman – Mohammed Kheir al-Rawashida
King Abdullah II has officially ordered the revision of the terms of the gas agreement with Israel, in a technical report that examines Jordan’s interests from the continuation or the freezing of the agreement, senior Jordanian political sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The signing of the gas agreement between Jordan National Electricity Company and the US Noble Energy for the transfer of Israeli gas has sparked a wide internal debate in the past months, after popular movements organized a series of events denouncing economic normalization with Israel.

The government said it is obliged to comply with the agreement, under a penalty clause of one billion dollars.

It added that the project was in progress and some gas pipelines are already installed in a number of northern villages adjacent to the border with the occupied Palestinian territories.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Khaled Bakkar, the head of the finance committee in the Jordanian parliament, said that the deal, in addition to being “blatant normalization” with Israel, is “economically weak” based on the feasibility studies.

He stressed that Jordan’s energy production surpassed the country’s needs, noting that the import of Israeli gas, through Jordan, was only for the benefit of Israel.

South Korea Hunting For Iran Oil Replacement

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

South Korea Hunting for Iran Oil Replacement

Friday, 26 April, 2019 – 10:30
FILE PHOTO: South Korea’s top refiner SK Energy’s main factory is seen in Ulsan, about 410 km (256 miles) southeast of Seoul, February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak/File Photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
South Korea is looking for a replacement for Tehran’s oil which it will no longer have access to after May, now that the United States intends to tighten sanctions on Iranian exports. The country is the biggest buyer of Iran’s condensate.

SK Incheon Petrochem Co Ltd, Hyundai Oilbank Corp and Hanwha Total Petrochemical are set to once again scan the world for alternative, but more expensive, condensate supplies and snap up heavy naphtha oil products for their processing units, known as splitters, industry sources and analysts said.

In 2018 South Korea bought and tested up to 23 different types of condensate from 15 countries as a potential substitutes for Iranian condensate, at a cost of about $9 billion, government and trade data analysed by Thomson Reuters showed.

This year South Korean refiners did not have to look hard as they made full use of the Iranian oil volumes allowed under the US waivers by importing only Iranian condensate. However, those waivers will expire on the 1st of May.

The country is set to import about 249,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian South Pars condensate by the end of April, 70 percent of the total volume of condensate it imported last year, the data showed, much more than it needs in the first half of 2019.

The country’s condensate demand has also fallen in the first half of this year as refiners cut runs at splitters on poor naphtha margins and as Hanwha Total shut a splitter for maintenance, the sources said, according to Reuters.

SK and Hanwha Total may replace condensates by buying more heavy naphtha, a raw material for petrochemicals. Low naphtha prices could help repeat a spike in imports that happened in late 2018.

Hanwha Total, which operates two condensate splitters, last year raised its monthly average imports of heavy naphtha to 400,000 tonnes from 250,000 tonnes in the absence of Iranian condensate.

The confidential oil plan that could cost Trump reelection

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO NEWS)

 

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The confidential oil plan that could cost Trump reelection

The Trump administration is considering auctioning off Florida’s coastal waters for oil and gas drilling — and Republicans are warning it could cost the president dearly in Florida in the 2020 election.

An industry lobbying offensive has put it on the cusp of achieving its holy grail: access to the resource-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico. The idea is so politically toxic in Florida that past presidents haven’t even entertained it. But behind the scenes, oil and gas interests are appealing to Trump’s desire to turbocharge U.S. energy production, including his past openness to drilling off the Florida coast.

The president and his top advisers haven’t yet weighed in on the plan taking shape inside his Interior Department. But giving it the green light would be tantamount to a declaration of war on his second home state, given the uniform opposition from Florida Republicans, including prominent allies like Sen. Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis and others.

“He would have a price to pay for that,” Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), a staunch Trump supporter, told POLITICO.

Industry representatives have said a plan has been imminent since last fall, but many expect the Interior Department is waiting for the Senate to confirm acting Secretary David Bernhardt to fill the agency’s top slot before formally releasing the draft. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Monday on Bernhardt’s confirmation, teeing up a vote this week.

Multiple oil and gas industry sources told POLITICO that the eastern Gulf, along with the Atlantic coast, are included in the administration’s current five-year off-shore drilling proposal, which hasn’t yet been released. The deliberations surrounding that plan are occurring mostly at Interior between lower-level policy aides who are being lobbied by industry representatives, they said.

The administration’s position was muddied when former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held an elaborately staged Jan. 2018 meeting with Scott, then Florida’s governor, to declare the state wouldn’t be on the drilling map. The announcement was seen as a favor to boost Scott’s electoral fortunes in his ultimately successful challenge against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, who tried to use environmental issues to separate himself from the Republican challenger.

In reality, Trump was upset by the announcement. People familiar with his reaction said Zinke’s statement came without White House approval and contradicted the administration’s “energy dominance” message.

Both parties in Florida oppose offshore drilling. Memories of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which sent tarballs ashore in Florida, bring fears of a future spill damaging the state’s fisheries and tourism. Many in the state also say drilling would conflict with military exercises in the area.

Bernhardt has stayed mum about what’s in the offshore leasing proposal, remarking in a March 28 confirmation hearing that the department is at “step one” of the process. Several industry sources disputed that, though, saying the plan is nearly complete.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s done,” said an industry lobbyist familiar with the plan.

But the senior political officials charged with protecting Trump’s electoral prospects haven’t yet focused on the drilling plan, said a source close to the president who met recently with members of Trump’s energy policy team.

The White House referred a request for comment to the Interior Department. An agency spokesperson did not immediately reply to questions about whether the eastern Gulf of Mexico would be included in any draft plan. Bernhardt said at his nomination hearing that the latest draft plan hadn’t reached his desk.

Offshore drilling is broadly unpopular in Florida. A Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters released March 13 showed 64 percent oppose the practice. Republicans, though, supported it by a 54-38 percent margin. A ballot measure banning oil and gas development in state waters passed overwhelmingly in November.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Florida remains off the table,” Scott told POLITICO in an interview earlier this month. “I’ve been very clear to let the White House know where I stand. This is very important to me.“

The draft plan from Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would have to go through a comment period, giving the Trump administration another chance to rewrite it before finalizing. It does not need to pass Congress.

The current plan includes a “buffer” to keep rigs at least 100 miles from Florida’s shoreline, according to industry representatives. They said they plan to present Trump with several options for each of the major regions to be covered under the plan, including the mid-Atlantic and Pacific.

“They can put the plan out and if it doesn’t go over very well, this isn’t the final version, so they can just pull it back,” said an oil-and-gas industry source, who added that industry is trying to figure out how close it can get to Florida without inviting backlash. Former President Barack Obama, for example, offered the eastern Gulf of Mexico with a 125-mile buffer before implementing a seven-year ban following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, though Congress already had imposed a moratorium on drilling in waters closest to Florida until 2022.

Florida lawmakers from both parties have signed numerous letters rejecting offshore drilling, no matter how far from the state’s shoreline. Many also have pushed back on what’s known as seismic testing, a precursor to drilling that involves blasting sonar from boats toward the seafloor to search for buried oil and gas deposits. Both chambers of the state legislature are moving resolutions rejecting offshore drilling in the Gulf.

“We don’t want to see any of it in the Gulf, I don’t want to see any of it on the Atlantic side, which is where I represent,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) told POLITICO. “We’re not looking for Deepwater Horizons off of Jensen Beach, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach, Fort Pierce Beach, and we don’t want to see it out there in the Gulf.”

Even DeSantis, whom Trump endorsed in a crowded Republican primary last year, signed an executive order in January committing the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to “adamantly oppose” offshore drilling. Pressure on Republicans to oppose drilling has only grown since DeSantis was elected in November, as Democrats have homed in on fighting climate change.

“It seems hard to believe that the administration would move forward with drilling off the coast of Florida less than two years before a presidential election,” said Alex Conant, a partner at Firehouse Strategies and former aide to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “It would certainly be an issue that Democrats would try to use against [Trump] throughout the state.”

Israel, Cyprus, Greek ‘Cooperate from Firefighting to Energy’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Israel, Cyprus, Greek ‘Cooperate from Firefighting to Energy’

Friday, 22 March, 2019 – 09:30
Israeli PM Netanyahu sits with US Secretary of State Pompeo, Greek PM Tsipras and Cypriot President Anastasiades during their meeting in Jerusalem. (Reuters)
Tel Aviv – Nazir Magally
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described cooperation with Greece and Cyprus, under the supervision and encouragement of the US, as the best and strongest regional association in the world.

He made his comment following a summit he hosted in Jerusalem on Thursday with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“This is the sixth summit meeting between Israel, Cyprus and Greece. We began this a few years ago, and it’s blossomed into one of the best regional associations in the world,” said Netanyahu.

He added: “We cooperate in everything, from firefighting and now to energy.”

“We are planning to lay down a pipeline called the East-Med Pipeline, from Israel, through Cyprus, through Greece, to Europe, something that will benefit our economies greatly, provide stability for the region and prosperity to our peoples, but also we think would diversify the energy supplies to Europe,” said Netanyahu.

A source close to Israeli PM said that the summit unveiled a leap in military cooperation among the three countries, to the extent of establishing a joint supervision body in the Mediterranean Sea to protect gas wells.

Anastasiades affirmed Cyprus’ “commitment to promoting peace, stability, security and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean region.”

“Revisionist powers, like Iran and Russia and China, are all trying to take major footholds in the East and the West. We view the United States, Israel, Cyprus and Greece as great key partners in security and prosperity,” said Pompeo.

In 2015, Israel participated in wide-range military exercises in Greece, including a training against a Russian-supplied S-300 anti-missile system.

European countries signed with Israel in 2017 the joint declaration to enhance the work aimed at extending the sea line to transport Israeli gas to Europe within the next eight years.

The 2,000-kilometer underwater pipeline is intended to have a capacity of 12 billion cubic meters of gas annually. The project includes the construction of a 1,300 km long submarine pipeline from the East Mediterranean gas field to southern Greece, as well as a 600 km long pipeline to western Greece, linking existing pipelines to transport gas to Italy and other EU countries.

Qatar Announces Withdrawal from OPEC

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Qatar Announces Withdrawal from OPEC

Monday, 3 December, 2018 – 11:15
Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi. (Reuters file photo)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Qatar announced on Monday that it was quitting OPEC from January 2019.

Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi told a news conference that Doha’s decision “was communicated to OPEC” but said Qatar would attend the group’s meeting on Thursday and Friday, and would abide by its commitments, reported Reuters.

He said Doha would focus on its gas potential because it was not practical for Qatar “to put efforts and resources and time in an organization that we are a very small player in.”

Al-Kaabi stressed the decision was not political but related to the country’s long-term strategy and plans to develop its gas industry.

Qatar had been a member of OPEC for 57 years.

NEXT-GEN NUCLEAR IS COMING—IF SOCIETY WANTS IT

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘WIRED’ MAGAZINE)

 

NEXT-GEN NUCLEAR IS COMING—IF SOCIETY WANTS IT

Arctic communities like this one are beginning to explore advanced nuclear reactors as a solution to their unique energy challenges.
THIRD WAY/GENSLER
This story originally appeared on Grist and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Back in 2009, Simon Irish, an investment manager in New York, found the kind of opportunity that he thought could transform the world while — in the process — transforming dollars into riches.

Irish saw that countries around the globe needed to build a boggling amount of clean-power projects to replace their fossil fuel infrastructure, while also providing enough energy for rising demand from China, India, and other rapidly growing countries. He realized that it would be very hard for renewables, which depend on the wind blowing and the sun shining, to do everything. And he knew that nuclear power, the only existing form of clean energy that could fill the gaps, was too expensive to compete with oil and gas.

But then, at a conference in 2011, he met an engineer with an innovative design for a nuclear reactor cooled by molten salt. If it worked, Irish figured, it could not only solve the problems with aging nuclear power, but also provide a realistic path to dropping fossil fuels.

“The question was, ‘Can we do better than the conventional reactors that were commercialized 60 years ago?” Irish recalled. “And the answer was, ‘Absolutely.’”

Irish was so convinced that this new reactor was a great investment that he bet his career on it. Nearly a decade later, Irish is the CEO of New York City-based Terrestrial Energy, a company that expects to have a molten-salt reactor online before 2030.

Terrestrial is far from alone. Dozens of nuclear startups are popping up around the country, aiming to solve the well-known problems with nuclear power — radioactive waste, meltdowns, weapons proliferation, and high costs.

There are reactors that burn nuclear waste. There are reactors designed to destroy isotopes that could be made into weapons. There are small reactors that could be built inexpensively in factories. So many ideas!

To former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, an advisor to Terrestrial, it feels as if something new is underway. “I have never seen this kind of innovation in the sector,” he said. “It’s really exciting.”

Other reactors, like Terrestrial’s molten-salt-cooled design, automatically cool down if they get too hot. Water flows through conventional reactors to keep them from overheating, but if something halts this flow — like the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima — the water boils off, leaving nothing to stop a meltdown.

Unlike water, salt wouldn’t boil off, so even if operators switched off safety systems and walked away, the salts would keep cooling the system, Irish said. Salts heat up and expand, pushing uranium atoms apart and slowing down the reaction (the farther apart the uranium atoms, the less likely a flying neutron will split them apart, triggering the next link in the chain reaction).

“It’s like your pot on the stove when you are boiling pasta,” Irish said. No matter how hot your stove, your pasta will never get hotter than 212 degrees Fahrenheit unless the water boils off. Until it’s gone, the water is just circulating and dissipating heat. When you replace water with liquid salt, however, you have to get to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit before your coolant starts to evaporate.

This stuff can sound like science fiction — but it’s real. Russia has been producing electricity from an advanced reactor that burns up radioactive waste since 2016. China has built a “pebble bed” reactor that keeps radioactive elements locked inside cue ball-sized graphite spheres.

In 2015, to keep track of the startups and public-sector projects working on trying to provide low-carbon energy with safer, cheaper, and cleaner nuclear power, the centrist think tank, Third Way, started mapping all of the advanced nuke projects across the country. There were 48 dots on the first map, and now there are 75, spreading like a candy-colored case of measles.

“In terms of the number of projects, the number of people working on it, and the amount of private financing, there isn’t anything to compare it to unless you go back to the 1960s,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick who works on clean energy for Third Way.

Back then, just after Walt Disney released the film “Our Friend the Atom” promoting nuclear energy, when the futuristic notion of electricity “too cheap to meter” seemed plausible, electric utilities had plans to build hundreds of reactors across the United States.

WHY IS THIS all happening now? After all, scientists have been working on these alternative types of reactors since the beginning of the Cold War, yet they’ve never caught on. The history of advanced reactors is littered with the carcasses of failed attempts. A salt-cooled reactor first ran successfully back in 1954, but the United States opted to specialize in water-cooled reactors and defunded other designs.

But something fundamental has changed: Previously, there was no reason for a nuclear company to pony up the billion dollars needed to get a new design through the federal regulatory process because conventional reactors were profitable. That’s not true anymore.

“For the first time in half a century, the incumbent nuclear players are in financial distress,” Irish said.

Recently, the United States’ bet on conventional water-cooled reactors has been going bad in very expensive ways. In 2012, South Carolina Electric & Gas got permission to build two huge conventional reactors to generate 2,200 megawatts, enough to power 1.8 million homes, promising to have them up and running sometime in 2018. Electricity users saw their bills jump 18 percent to pay for the construction, which soon ran into delays. Last year, after sinking $9 billion into the project, the utility gave up.

“The most recent builds in the United States have been a disaster, largely due to poor on-sight construction practices,” said John Parsons, codirector of MIT’s Low-Carbon Energy Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems.

Similar stories have played out abroad. In Finland, construction of a new reactor at the Olkiluoto power plant is eight years behind schedule and $6.5 billion over budget.

In response, these nuclear startups are designing their businesses to avoid horrible cost overruns. Many have plans to build standardized reactor parts in a factory, then put them together like Legos at the construction site. “If you can move construction to the factory you can drive costs down significantly,” Parsons said.

New reactors could also reduce costs by being safer. Conventional reactors have a fundamental risk of meltdown, largely because they were designed to power submarines. It’s easy to cool a reactor with water when it’s in a submarine, underwater, but when we lifted these reactors onto land, we had to start pumping water up to cool them, Irish explained. “That pumping system can never, ever break, or you get a Fukushima. You need safety system on top of safety system, redundancy on top of redundancy.”

Oklo, a Silicon Valley startup, based its reactor design on a prototype that isn’t susceptible to meltdowns. “When engineers shut off all the cooling systems, it cooled itself and then started back up and was running normally later that day,” said Caroline Cochrane, Oklo’s cofounder. If these safer reactors don’t require all those backup cooling systems and concrete containment domes, companies can build plants for much less money.

Technologies often fail for a long time before succeeding: 45 years of tinkering passed between the first electric light and Thomas Edison’s patent for an incandescent bulb. It can take decades for the engineering to catch up to the idea. Others have tried seemingly every idea for advanced nuclear in the past, Parsons said. “But science has moved forward,” he said. “You have much better materials than you did a few decades ago. That makes it believable these things could work.”

A recent study from the nonprofit Energy Innovation Reform Project estimated that the latest batch of nuclear startups could deliver electricity somewhere between $36 and $90 a megawatt hour. That’s competitive with any power plant that runs on natural gas (which runs between $42 to $78), and would provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

In a best-case scenario, nuclear power could be even cheaper. There are projections a study like this can make based on, say, an improved design that cuts construction costs, but it can’t anticipate revolutionary advances.

“Hopefully these designers will come up with much more radical reductions in cost — you would like energy to be more accessible to a billion more people — so that nuclear becomes a cheap alternative that can beat natural gas even if there’s no carbon price,” Parsons said. “That’s just a hope, but that’s what entrepreneurs are supposed to do.”

MATTHEW BUNN, A nuclear expert at Harvard, said that if nuclear power is going to play a role in fighting climate change, these advanced nuclear companies will have to scale up insanely fast. “To supply a tenth of the clean energy we need by 2050, we have to add 30 gigawatts to the grid every year,” he said.

That means the world would have to build 10 times as much nuclear power as it was before the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Is that even realistic?

“I think we ought to be trying — I’m not optimistic,” Bunn said, noting that the pace at which we’d need to build solar and wind to quit fossil fuels is just as daunting.

Big barriers remain in the way of a nuclear renaissance. It takes years to test prototypes and get approval from federal regulators before a company can even start construction. “In order for advanced nuclear technologies to play a role in deep decarbonization over the next several decades,” the United States would need to overhaul the way it’s rolling out the technology, according to a study published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Experts point to many of the same steps to give advanced nuclear a fighting chance: Making regulations more friendly to innovation, instead of favoring conventional reactors. Creating incentives to reward utilities for buying low-carbon power. And a lot more funding.

A rendering of an advanced nuclear-gas hybrid reactor.
HYBRID POWER TECHNOLOGIES

The people behind the new crop of nuclear companies think they can get to market much faster with the right help. Oklo is shooting to have a commercial reactor online before 2025.

“Can we decarbonize quickly with nuclear? France did it, it can be done,” Cochrane from Oklo said. “Our reactors are 500 times smaller than the [latest conventional reactors], they have all these inherent safety characteristics, and they can consume nuclear waste. Will our application process be any shorter?”

Lowering these barriers would be cheaper than letting the government pick one promising idea and coddle it like a privileged child, which is the way we’ve treated conventional nuclear in the past, said Jessica Lovering, who studies nuclear power at the Breakthrough Institute, a pro-technology environmental think tank.

“We could pick one idea, spend a lot of money helping it become commercial, and then subsidize every project for even more money,” Lovering said. “Or, we could invest a much smaller amount of money across the entire innovation system.”

Still, it could easily take the advanced nuclear projects 30 years to get through regulatory review, fix the unexpected problems that crop up along the way, and prove that they can compete, said Dan Kammen, who studies clean energy at the University of California Berkeley. And by then Kammen thinks there will be other options in competition: Electric storage is getting better, and fusion could have a breakthrough.

“Ultimately on a planet with 10 billion people, some amount of large, convenient, affordable, safe baseload power — like we get from nuclear fission, or fusion — would be just hugely beneficial,” Kammen said. “There are other competitors in view on the straight solar side that 10 years ago sounded like science fiction — space-based solar, transparent solar films on every window. That world works, too.”

AT THIS POINT in history, everything is a longshot. We’ve got to completely replace our energy system on the fly. To do that, people are planting a lot of different seeds. It’s still a long time until harvest, but we’re seeing a flush of new sprouts from the advanced nuclear section of the garden.

This new flush of nuclear possibility has excited young people who see nuclear as a way to shift away from fossil fuels. College students are gravitating toward nuclear engineering. The number of students studying the subject cratered when the nuclear industry collapsed in the late 1970s (the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 didn’t help), but it has been creeping steadily higher since the early 2000s.

Some of those students are going on to start their own advanced nuclear companies. David Schumacher, a documentary filmmaker, met some of these young people and became so infected with their enthusiasm that he made a documentary about them, The New Fire, which came out last year.

“They are truly idealistic young people trying to save the planet by doing something really important but really unpopular,” Schumacher said. “They could be making a lot of money elsewhere, but instead they are starting these nuclear companies, knowing they are going to be maligned.”

It’s a feeling Simon Irish, at Terrestrial Energy, is familiar with. “The views on nuclear are so negative,” he said. “The great win is simply to persuade busy people to listen.”

While Terrestrial battles public opinion, Irish said his company has been hitting every milestone on time. Canadian regulators announced last year that Terrestrial had completed the initial stage of its design review — the first step toward approval in that country. Irish has already selected sites in Ontario where Terrestrial could build the first reactors.

Although Irish was mum on Terrestrial’s other milestones, he did describe an experience that he said gives him more confidence in the company’s prospects than any of its other accomplishments so far.

Last August, he found himself in the office of a prominent New York investor, a major contributor to environmental organizations. Getting the meeting had been a challenge — again because of the controversy around nuclear. But by the end, Irish had convinced the businessman that renewables and nuclear could not just coexist but compliment each other.

In Irish’s telling, he was in the middle of explaining Terrestrial’s reactor design when the man stopped him and said, “‘Hold on, this can deliver heat! The industrial sector needs heat, and wind and solar aren’t making any dent in that at all.’

“As far as he was concerned,” Irish said, “this was the great missing piece.”

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Laos dam collapse leaves hundreds missing, unknown number dead

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CBS NEWS)

 

Laos dam collapse leaves hundreds missing, unknown number dead

Villagers take refuge on a rooftop above flood waters from a collapsed dam in the Attapeu district of southeastern Laos, July 24, 2018.

 AP

BANGKOK — A hydroelectric dam collapsed in southeastern Laos, leaving an unknown number of people dead and hundreds missing, state media said Tuesday. Rescue efforts were underway as top government officials rushed to the site and public appeals were launched for aid.

The official Lao news agency KPL said the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam in Attapeu province collapsed Monday evening, releasing large amounts of water that swept away houses and made more than 6,600 people homeless.

The dam was constructed by a joint venture led by South Korean companies, with Thai and Lao partners. The project was still under construction, KPL reported. It described the portion that collapsed as a “saddle dam,” which is an auxiliary dam used to hold water beyond what is held by the main dam.

Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith “suspended the planned monthly meeting of the government for August and led his Cabinet members and other senior officials to Sanamxay (district) to monitor rescue and relief efforts being made for flood victims,” KPL said. Many areas of Laos have recently been hit by floods from heavy seasonal rains.

Provincial authorities issued a call for emergency aid – clothing, food, drinking water, medicine, cash and other items – from the “party, government organizations, business community, officials, police and military forces and people of all strata.”

Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia, has transitioned from communism to a market economy but remains a single-party state where freedoms are limited. There is virtually no freedom of the press, and foreign reporters who visit operate under tight restrictions, limiting the flow of information.

Electricity from several hydroelectric dams provides a large share of Laos’ export earnings, with Thailand being a major buyer.

KPL said the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy project cost an estimated $1.02 billion.

According to the website of the company that built and runs the dam, it is majority-owned by two South Korean companies, SK Engineering and Construction and Korea Western Power. Most of the financing for the project came from Thai lenders. The Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Public Co. Ltd of Thailand holds a 25 percent stake and the Lao Holding State Enterprise holds 24 percent.

The dam was built to divert the Houay Makchanh, Xe-Namnoy and Xe-Pian rivers into reservoirs that feed into a 410-megawatt power plant designed to generate 1,879 gigawatts of power a year, with 90 percent of the power being exported to Thailand and the remaining 10 percent used locally. The project is a 27-year concession and was due to begin operating in 2019, a year later than originally planned.

The project is on a volcanic plateau divided by a river gorge and the catchment area accounts for 17 percent of the Mekong river’s annual flow.

According to assessment documents, about 30 villages were affected by the project with more than 2,000 people in eight villages resettled. Roughly 10,000 people live in the affected area, with most belonging to ethnic minorities.

The project was supposed to be a cash cow for SK E&C for years. The company is part of the SK Group, one of South Korea’s top three conglomerates. Its units include SK Hynix, the world’s second-largest chipmaker, and SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest telecom carrier.

Thailand was to receive a stable supply of electricity while Laos was supposed to receive taxes, royalties and other income estimated at $33 billion per year.

South Korea’s Yonhap News agency said SK E&C has dispatched its president to Laos and has set up an emergency team in Seoul. SK E&C did not respond to several calls seeking comment.

Yonhap said SK E&C was still trying to find out whether water had overflowed the dam or if the dam had collapsed.

Yonhap quoted an unidentified SK E&C official as saying rain in the area was three times more than the usual amount, and that one of five auxiliary dams had overflowed.

It said SK E&C is focusing on the rescue operation, using boats and other equipment to search for missing people.

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