Top 10 Nuclear News of 2022
It’s been an incredible year for the power of the atom, let us look back at the ten best things that happened for the industry.
The year of momentum
It’s going to be incredibly difficult to pick just ten pieces of great nuclear news for this year. There’s been setbacks, to be sure, but the big trend of for nuclear in 2022 is the building of momentum.
Energy Security emerged as a top-of-mind consideration with the War in Ukraine and the resulting European energy crisis. A number of breakthroughs years in the making took place, alongside exhilarating knife’s edge saves and key decisions breaking our way. 2022 is a year to remember.
So without further ado, here’s my personal Top Ten nuclear news of the year, followed by some not-so-great news, and predictions for 2023!
10. Cameco and Brookfield Renewable Partners Buys Westinghouse
Squeaking in at number 10, we have a piece of industrial news that might seem like insider baseball, but I think is actually quite significant. When Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in 2017, it was scooped up by Canadian private equity firm Brookfield Business Partners, who has been trying to offload it for a nice payday ever since. With the sale to Brookfield Renewable and top Canadian uranium company Cameco, it looks like Westinghouse has found a stable and strategically advantageous ownership structure at last. There is the possibility for America’s nuclear champion, so recently on the ropes, to become a part of a vertically-integrated value chain that starts from uranium mining and ends in building and servicing nuclear power plants.
9. Inflation Reduction Act boosts existing nuclear and more
2022’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) aimed a giant hose pipe of money at decarbonization. And while most of it won’t be going to nuclear power, it is still the biggest public investment in nuclear energy in a generation.
I love Hank Green’s handy-dandy visualization for putting the $30 billion that will definitely be going towards existing nuclear power plants in perspective. It’s definitely a thinner slice of the pie compared to, for instance, wind and solar. But it’s important to note that there’s more to play for, including several production credits that are technology agnostic that nuclear energy could be eligible for, some investment tax credits for new nuclear, plus loan guarantees.
8. Germany’s mini-extension
In the morality play of Europe getting hooked on Russian oil and gas while getting high on their own supply of nothing but hubris, there are many guilty parties but just one perfect villain: Germany.
As they flip-flopped over the fate of their last three reactors, the outrage of their neighbors, especially to the east, deepened. How selfish, intransigent and deluded would you have to be to insist on shutting off a stable source of power while the whole continent teeters on the edge of crisis? After all that back and forth, the official story is still that they will be closed by April, meaning Germany’s nuclear phase out was delayed by just four months.
I still hope there’s time for one more reversal, sanity will prevail and the plants will stay on. Even the famously anti-nuclear Greta Thunberg went on the record in saying Germany is making a mistake by ditching nuclear for coal. In the court of public opinion at least, this is a big win for nuclear.
7. BWRX-300 breaks ground in Canada
Amongst the current Small Modular Reactor (SMR) gold rush, one model stands out to me head and shoulders above the rest in terms of being most likely to succeed. That is, the BWRX-300 by GE Hitachi (GEH). The reason is simple: It is their tried and proven Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) technology scaled down, while still using many of the same components. It uses the same fuel, and the reactor vessel, while smaller, is made out of the same material. “There is no magic here, it’s all a boiling water reactor,” said GEH. That’s actually a huge selling point — the closest thing to a track record in a brand new class of reactors.
That’s why is super exciting that they have broken ground in Ontario to build the first of the BWRX-300s that could become the little workhorses of nuclear in the future. If all goes well, the preliminary target date for plant operations is a super-ambitious 2028.
6. Major progress at Vogtle and Olkiluoto
Remember when we learned earlier that Westinghouse went bankrupt in 2017? The reason was two disastrous attempts at new-builds. One, VC Summer, crumbled amidst fraud and corruption that led to a former Westinghouse exec going to jail. Vogtle Unit #3 and #4 ‘merely’ suffered what has been described as a Groundhog Day of recurring delays and cost blowouts, turning the already-spendy $14 billion estimate for a pair of AP1000 reactors into $30 billion.
We cannot change the past. But the good news there is light at the end of the tunnel. Plant Vogtle finally started to load fuel in October and Unit #3 is anticipated to go into service in the first quarter of 2023. This is a huge sigh of relief not just for Georgia Power, but for the future prospects of the AP1000, which Westinghouse is keen on exporting.
Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 presents a similar story of a new-model nuclear build suffering hideous delays and heinous cost over-runs, this time with EDF’s European Pressurized Reactor (EPR). But similarly, after some drama with the feedwater pumps, finally it seems Olkiluoto is on the home stretch. Here’s to hoping 2023 will see both these long-troubled projects pumping massive amounts of low-carbon power into their respective grids.
5. Zaporizhzhia survived
The world watched in horror in March as Russian forces proceeded to…what’s the technical language, shell the shit out of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. So many reasons to be scared in that scenario, but one is the unique position of nuclear power — one accident anywhere destroys the industry everywhere. For a while, as the fate of the plant hangs in the balance, it did indeed become a popular talking point for why nuclear isn’t safe.
The good news is, Zaporizhzhia has withstood the shelling. The crisis is of course, still not over. But with the passage of every day, the likelihood of a catastrophe at the plant, which is powered down already, further decreases. We keep our fingers crossed that the plant will somehow safely pass back into the hands of the Ukrainian people in 2023.
4. Diablo Canyon and Pickering Saved
They tried to tell Isabelle Boemeke she’s wasting her time trying to save California’s Diablo Canyon from closure. “It’s a done deal,” they said. Who’s “they”? Anti-nuclear activists? No, even a pro-nuclear group thought it was hopeless. It just goes to show how much a small group of dedicated activists can achieve.
The Diablo Canyon save is not just huge for California but a huge public relations win. California, after all, holds a certain mystique in the public imagination as a crunchy-granola “green” state where anti-nuclear sentiments traditionally run strong. A change of mind by California is a strong bellwether that environmentalists everywhere might be having a change of heart on nuclear amidst stronger concerns about climate change.
A similar ‘save’ story where the fate of a plant has been changed by a small handful of activists who persisted despite being told to give up is Canada’s Pickering plant. Since that effort is still somewhat in the works I won’t say too much about it. Hopefully it will get pride of place on 2023’s list!
3. Poland big bid for new-builds
Poland’s nuclear plans have been in the works of course, but 2022 was the year they put out the bids for 6 full-sized Light Water Reactors (LWR), easily the biggest build in Europe for a long time. The order was eventually split between the US’ Westinghouse and Korea’s state-run KHNP, with France’s EDF still not entirely out of the running. There are additional SMR plans on top of that but it is truly the announcement of the Big Six that is truly putting Poland on the map as Europe’s next nuclear powerhouse.
Support for nuclear energy in Poland sharply increased in the wake of the war and has reached a stratospheric 88.1%. If all goes well, nuclear energy will be about 40% of the Polish energy mix by the 2040s.
2. Nuclear energy included as green in the EU Taxonomy
The inclusion of nuclear in the EU Green Taxonomy have wide-ranging implications both directly in terms of investment decisions within the EU, and indirectly in terms of how nuclear energy is perceived around the world. Again, like California, the EU has a reputation for being environmentally scrupulous. As far away as where I live in Taiwan, the fact that the EU has accepted nuclear as green made waves and became a serious talking point in the court of public opinion about nuclear energy.
The decision wasn’t completely satisfying. It lumped nuclear in with gas, which was also considered as green. There were also various caveats and conditions. Despite all that, we need to take the wins where we find them. Here’s to hoping that this inclusion is just a foot in the door and will lead the way to permanent acceptance of nuclear as green while gas eventually gets phased out.
1. Korea and Japan’s nuclear U-turns
The Korean presidential election of 2022 came down to the wire. In the end, the pro-nuclear candidate Yoon Suk-yeol pulled it out in a squeaker, 48.56% to 47.83%. Had the vote swung the other way, as it looked like it might have for much of the run-up to Election Day, Korea would at best have preserved their existed nuclear power plants.
Instead, Yoon has made nuclear power a centerpiece, rebooting Korea’s export ambitions abroad while making nuclear a key tool to meet green goals at home. Is Yoon the most popular president? Not at all, but timing is everything. With sentiments on nuclear swinging rapidly, by the time another presidential election comes around, hopefully all the candidates will be staunchly pro-nuclear. With Korea’s state-owned KHNP/KEPCO probably the strongest builder of nuclear power plants around outside of China or Russia, I cannot overstate what great news this is not just for Korea, but the whole world.
Similarly, Japan embraced its nuclear U-turn in 2022. Unlike Korea, there wasn’t a dramatic election of a polarizing nukepilled president. Just a realization as the global energy crisis continues to bite that they can’t do without their nuclear power plants. They are bringing back the plants mothballed after Fukushima in 2011 at a more rapid rate, plus finally announcing a return to new-builds, although details remain sketchy.
We didn’t get around to talking about Sizewell C getting funding and the Great British Nuclear initiative, Sweden’s new government’s embrace of nuclear energy, the two nuclear power plants the Netherlands plan to build by the ambitious deadline of 2035, nuclear energy getting it’s place in the sun at COP 27, NuScale listing as SMR 0.00 after a SPAC deal, French announcement of 6 new reactors by 2050, Argentina’s new-build plans, India’s new-build plans, first criticality at Slovakia’s Mochovce 3 , Bono changing his mind on nuclear power and probably many more.
Unfortunately some of the very characters we just lauded are also appearing on our dishonorable mentions list fo things that went pear-shaped in 2022. Top of mind is France’s EDF, whose corrosion issues caused the French fleet to suffer major outages just as the energy is most needed, in the teeth of Europe’s energy crisis. NuScale, meanwhile, announced their estimated cost just about doubled. You can blame it on inflation and steel prices, but those are factors affecting other means of energy productions as well and I haven’t seen such a doubling in production costs.
Looking forward to 2023
It’s been a great year for nuclear so far. But what if we look into the future? What will 2023 bring? Here are a few predictions, crowdsourced to my twitter followers.
Site work to start in Poland on their nuclear program
Vogtle 3 and 4 to achieve first criticality
Finalized good news for refurbishment of Pickering in Canada
Good news from China’s high-temperature gas-cooled reactor program
Nuclear to go from having a seat at the table at COP27 to being a center piece at COP28
Beating 2006’s annual global nuclear production record
Turkey’s Akkuyu NPP commencing operations
Radiation tests for Denmark’s Copenhagen Atomics
If you have your own predictions for 2023, please leave them in the comments. Or tell me if you disagreed with my top 10 for 2022. As always, with nuclear energy, it is a marathon not a sprint. Yet it’s also really good to celebrate the wins as they happen, especially in a bumper-crop year for good news like 2022!
Hopefully the Palisades nuclear plant can be saved as well :)
Nice 10 from 2022
Thanks for a great summary of the year that could be a new beginning for nuclear power!