Tale of two Chinas – One surging forward, one retreating

Two stories caught my attention this morning. One came from the Taipei Times, one from the Beijing Review.

The first one focused on a future energy supply prognostication from an American “expert” who has a light educational and professional background in energy technology, manufacturing, engineering, economics and market dynamics. The second one documents recent progress and future planning in a nation led by technologists with a demonstrated record of sustained successes in implementing previous plans.

The Taipei Times report, Nuclear power not cheap, being phased out: expert led with the following two paragraphs.

Former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko yesterday said that nuclear energy is playing an increasingly insignificant role in electricity generation worldwide, and that, contrary to popular belief, it is actually more expensive than a range of methods of energy generation.

At a news conference in Taipei, Jaczko said that the future for nuclear power generation in the US and worldwide is one of “decreasing use and eventual phase-out.”

Atomic Insights readers will understand why I mentally discounted the contents of that story before completing the first sentence.

Dr. Greg Jaczko is not an expert in any topic relevant to predicting the future use of nuclear energy around the world. Thinking, concerned people in Taiwan deserve to know some things about Jaczko that are not included in his publicist’s press kit.

Jaczko is a political animal whose only professional experience before being appointed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was serving as a staffer for Representative Ed Markey and Senator Harry Reid. In both jobs, his portfolio included supporting their well-known campaigns against the use of nuclear energy, most likely in return for substantial political support from promoters of competitive energy sources like liquified natural gas, coal and fracked or imported oil.

Using a skillful manipulation of Senate rules, Senator Reid convinced President Bush to appoint him to be an NRC Commissioner. Soon after his inauguration, President Obama followed through on a deal made early in his campaign for Senator Reid’s election support and promoted Jaczko to be the Chairman of the Commission.

Jaczko initiated a number of actions during his seven years on the NRC that added both cost and schedule uncertainty to nuclear plant operations, new nuclear plant design and licensing, and new nuclear plant construction.

He declared unilateral authority on shaky legal grounds in the wake of the tsunami that wiped out the backup power supplies at Fukushima Daiichi units 1-4, severely damaging all four units. He did not keep his fellow Commissioners involved or informed, isolating himself from colleagues with education and professional experience relevant to accident evaluation and response.

Even though no one who was outside of the gates of the Fukushima Daiichi facility was exposed to a harmful dose of radiation, Jaczko initiated a worldwide panic by claiming — without any evidence — that the Unit 4 spent fuel pool was dry and on fire. Based on that imaginary scenario, he recommended the evacuation of all Americans within 50 miles of the facility.

He was asked to resign from his job as NRC Chairman after all four of his fellow commissioners informed the President that he had created a hostile work environment. As predicted by Atomic Insights at the time of his resignation, Jaczko has spent the last several years parlaying his politically appointed position as a former Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission into a career as a professional antinuclear speaker for hire.

There is one part of Jaczko’s evaluation of the future prospects of nuclear energy that is correct. Under rules that he helped to create, nuclear energy projects contain too much schedule and cost uncertainty to attract financing. New projects will not be started without revising the rules. Some projects that are already underway may not be completed unless some rules are reinterpreted. Many operating plants may stop operating long before they are worn out due to escalating requirements that provide no additional safety or performance benefits.

One gross conceptual error that Jaczko and his fellow travelers have made, however, is in their continuing belief that the United States of America has much influence left in the rest of the world. No other country operates under the same rules that Jaczko and a series of similarly disposed closet antinuclear activists have written and imposed on the US nuclear industry.

In early May, several weeks before Jaczko appeared in Taipei and gave his negative prognostication about the future of nuclear energy in the US and the rest of the world, the Beijing Review published a story titled The Year of Nuclear Power: 2015 sees a surge of several new nuclear power projects in China.

That story, instead of pointing to analysis about the future costs of unproven alternatives like carbon capture and sequestration, reports on Chinese actions, achievements and firming plans for future nuclear plant construction.

This year will see the beginning of the greatest number of nuclear power projects in a single year in China since the 2011 crisis, with six to eight units being approved and eight units going online, said Zhang Huazhu, Chairman of the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA), at the annual conference of the association on April 22.

Chinese leaders understand that the proven path to cost reductions for any technology includes dedicated action and consistently implemented learning based on growing experience. They recognize that ever changing regulations lead to interruptions in the development path and inevitably add cost and schedule uncertainty.

China took a lengthy pause in new nuclear plant project approvals following the Fukushima events. It invested that time in efforts to understand exactly what caused the problems and in implementing mitigation efforts that would minimize the risk of similar events in their own country. They did not respond precipitously and decide that an event at a forty year old facility located in a geographically unique area proved anything about the existing or potential safety of nuclear technology.

The Chinese nuclear development pause has ended.

As some of its competitors continue their retreat from the nuclear market, Chinese companies see increasing opportunities to export their expertise and experience. It’s worth noting that much of what China knows about nuclear technology originated in France, the United States, or Germany but knowledge, once transferred, becomes the property of the recipient with little means for the teacher to maintain control.

China has been working diligently to learn as much as possible from as many sources as available about nuclear plant design and construction. It has experimented with an almost dizzying array of designs, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

As the Chinese nuclear industry moves into a greater application of mass production techniques, it seems apparent that one of the winners in the learning process will be the Hualong One design, a 1150 MWe, three loop, dual containment pressurized water reactor that has been strongly influenced by imported French and German design choices.

Another winner will be the pebble bed high temperature gas reactor that will employ multiple reactor heat sources to feed various sizes of steam turbines. That technical path may eventually provide direct coal boiler replacements in thermal power plants that have relatively modern turbines, turning dirty coal power into clean nuclear power without having to rebuild an entirely new facility.

Because of the proven ability of moderately sized pebble bed reactors to withstand a complete loss of coolant flow or a complete loss of coolant pressure without any operator action or automated active system response, those coal boiler replacement projects will be acceptable even if the current power station is in a heavily populated area.

Logically enough, engineers and businessmen who envision the successful replacement of coal boilers in steam power plants also realize that a natural expansion market for their product is to replace coal boilers in steam plants used for industrial process heat for refineries, synthetic hydrocarbon fuel production facilities, and desalination plants.

According to CNECC chief economist Shu, their group is promoting industrial application of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and South Africa. In April, the company signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with South Africa on nuclear power cooperation. It will soon sign an MOU with Saudi Arabia on nuclear power and renewable energy cooperation.

China also has several small, simple reactor designs that may soon be serving in a number of places where 1000 MWe class nuclear plants cannot fit.

Bottom line. Once again Jaczko is wrong. He has arrogantly — and incorrectly — assumed that his efforts in the United States will be influential in other countries. He has ignored evidence and denied reality. He is not an expert and not a representative of the best that the US has to offer the rest of the world.

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