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    France to cut carbon emissions, Russian energy influence with 14 nuclear reactors / ArsTechnica · Monday, 14 February - 18:23 · 1 minute

Four nuclear cooling towers

Enlarge / Vapor rises from the cooling towers of the nuclear plant of Dampierre-en-Burly near Orleans, central France, on October 23, 2018. (credit: GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images )

France is planning to build up to 14 nuclear reactors in an attempt to shore up the country’s aging nuclear fleet while also reducing the country’s carbon emissions. And while the first reactors won’t open for years, the announcement could serve to undercut Russia’s attempts to keep Europe dependent on natural gas.

President Emmanuel Macron announced the decision last week, saying that state-backed Électricité de France, also known as EDF, will build six new plants starting in 2028, with the option to build another eight by 2050. EDF estimates that six next-generation pressurized water reactors will cost around €50 billion ($57 billion). The first could be commissioned as early as 2035.

The move is a sharp reversal of Macron’s earlier pledge to close several reactors over the next decade or so. National politics almost certainly play a role—the nuclear power sector in France employs around 220,000 people, according to one estimate . “What our country needs is the rebirth of France’s nuclear industry,” Macron said at a nuclear turbine factory that EDF had just purchased from GE. “The time has come for a nuclear renaissance,” he said.

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    EU plans to label natural gas and nuclear power plants “sustainable” / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 2 February - 18:04

EU plans to label natural gas and nuclear power plants “sustainable”

Enlarge (credit: iStock)

The European Union says it wants to “prevent greenwashing” among investors, but a new proposal may end up encouraging the behavior it wants to banish.

The European Commission put forward a plan today that defines what counts as a “sustainable investment,” something that’s all but required to manage a transition to clean energy. But to the chagrin of several EU countries, environmental groups, and asset managers, the proposal would allow both natural gas and nuclear to qualify as “contributing substantially to climate change mitigation.”

The split-the-baby approach came about because some countries, including Germany and Poland, lobbied for the inclusion of natural gas, while others, notably France, lobbied for nuclear power . Germany, which is in the process of shuttering its nuclear power plants, remains heavily dependent on coal and has been boosting its use of natural gas to “transition” away from coal. France, on the other hand, uses relatively little natural gas and gets nearly all of its electricity from nuclear power plants.

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    Europe is in the middle of a messy nuclear showdown / ArsTechnica · Sunday, 23 January - 11:45

Europe is in the middle of a messy nuclear showdown

(credit: Felix König )

On the last day of 2021, as final preparations were being made for the New Year’s Eve firework display in central Berlin, outside the German capital another era was drawing to a close. It was the beginning of the end of Germany's decades-long dalliance with nuclear power.

On December 31, Germany shut down three of its six remaining nuclear plants. By the end of 2022, the other three will be shut as well. Two decades after an agreement to eliminate nuclear power became law , the country’s phaseout has been dramatic. In 2002, Germany relied on nuclear power for nearly 30 percent of its electricity. Within a year, that percentage will be zero.

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    Bill Gates’ nuclear power company selects a site for its first reactor / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 17 November, 2021 - 22:49 · 1 minute

Computer rendering of the reactor site design.

Enlarge / In TerraPower's design, the nuclear reactor is separated from the power generation process by molten salt heat storage. (credit: TerraPower )

On Tuesday, TerraPower, the US-based nuclear power company backed by Bill Gates, announced it has chosen a site for what would be its first reactor. Kemmerer, Wyoming , population roughly 2,500, has been the site of the coal-fired Naughton Power Plant, which is being closed. The TerraPower project will see it replaced by a 345 megawatt reactor that would pioneer a number of technologies that haven't been commercially deployed before.

These include a reactor design that needs minimal refueling, cooling by liquid sodium, and a molten-salt heat-storage system that will provide the plant with the flexibility needed to integrate better with renewable energy.


While TerraPower is the name clearly attached to the project, plenty of other parties are involved, as well. The company is perhaps best known for being backed by Bill Gates, now chairman of the company board, who has promoted nuclear power as a partial solution for the climate crisis. The company has been selected by the US Department of Energy to build a demonstration reactor, a designation that guarantees at least $180 million toward construction and could see it receive billions of dollars over the next several years.

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    Climate events are the leading cause of nuclear power outages / ArsTechnica · Saturday, 24 July, 2021 - 13:00 · 1 minute

Image of two cooling towers above a body of water.

Enlarge / Cooling water is only one factor that limits the productivity of nuclear power plants. (credit: Getty Images )

With extreme weather causing power failures in California and Texas, it’s increasingly clear that the existing power infrastructure isn’t designed for these new conditions. Past research has shown that nuclear power plants are no exception, with rising temperatures creating cooling problems for them. Now, a comprehensive analysis looking at a broader range of climate events shows that it’s not just hot weather that puts these plants at risk—it's the full range of climate disturbances.

Heat has been one of the most direct threats, as higher temperatures mean that the natural cooling sources (rivers, oceans, lakes) are becoming less efficient heat sinks. However, this new analysis shows that hurricanes and typhoons have become the leading causes of nuclear outages, at least in North America and South and East Asia. Precautionary shutdowns for storms are routine, and so this finding is perhaps not so surprising. But other factors—like the clogging of cooling intake pipes by unusually abundant jellyfish populations—are a bit less obvious.

Overall this latest analysis calculates that the frequency of climate-related nuclear plant outages is almost eight times higher than it was in the 1990s. The analysis also estimates that the global nuclear fleet will lose up 1.4 percent—about 36 TWh—of its energy production in the next 40 years, and up to 2.4 percent, or 61 TWh, by 2081-2100.

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    Even power disasters are “bigger in Texas”—here’s why / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 18 February, 2021 - 15:57

Even power disasters are “bigger in Texas”—here’s why

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Texas is now entering its third day of widespread power outages and, although supplies of electricity are improving, they remain well short of demand. For now, the state's power authority suggests that, rather than restoring power, grid operators will try to shift from complete blackouts to rolling ones. Meanwhile, the state's cold weather is expected to continue for at least another day. How did this happen?

To understand what's going on in Texas, and how things got so bad, you need quite a bit of arcane knowledge—including everything from weather and history to the details of grid structure and how natural gas contracts are organized. We've gathered details on as much of this as possible, and we also talked to grid expert Jeff Dagle at Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL). What follows is an attempt to organize and understand an ongoing, and still somewhat chaotic, situation.

Why is Texas so much worse off?

While other states have seen customers lose power, Texas has been hit the hardest, with far more customers losing power for substantially longer.

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    Why are nuclear plants so expensive? Safety’s only part of the story / ArsTechnica · Saturday, 21 November, 2020 - 15:00 · 1 minute

Image of two power plant cooling towers.

Enlarge (credit: US DOE )

Should any discussion of nuclear power go on for long enough, it becomes inevitable that someone will rant that the only reason they've become unaffordable is a proliferation of safety regulations. The argument is rarely (if ever) fleshed out—no specific regulation is ever identified as problematic, and there seems to be no consideration given to the fact that we might have learned something at, say, Fukushima that might merit addressing through regulations.

But there's now a paper out that provides some empirical evidence that safety changes have contributed to the cost of building new nuclear reactors. But the study also makes clear that they're only one of a number of factors, accounting for only a third of the soaring costs. The study also finds that, contrary to what those in the industry seem to expect, focusing on standardized designs doesn't really help matters, as costs continued to grow as more of a given reactor design was built.

More of the same

The analysis, done by a team of researchers at MIT, is remarkably comprehensive. For many nuclear plants, they have detailed construction records, broken out by which building different materials and labor went to, and how much each of them cost. There's also a detailed record of safety regulations and when they were instituted relative to construction. Finally, they've also brought in the patent applications filed by the companies who designed the reactors. The documents describe the motivations for design changes and the problems those changes were intended to solve.

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