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The Russia nuclear energy sector has big plans for growth, but a new study indicates that renewable energy offers a more competitive, less risky option.

Nuclear Energy

Finland Shoots Down Russia Nuclear Energy Option With “Super-Grid” Option

The Russia nuclear energy sector has big plans for growth, but a new study indicates that renewable energy offers a more competitive, less risky option.

Now that the historic COP21 Paris climate talks have concluded with a big push to reduce human-related carbon emissions sooner rather than later, nuclear energy has been gaining more traction as the most effective way to do that. Russia is among the nations already moving in that direction, but a new study from Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology indicates that Russia nuclear energy is a move in the wrong direction, and that Eurasia as a whole would be better served by a less expensive, less risky renewable energy “super-grid.”

Russia nuclear energy v renewables

Russia Nuclear Energy And The Cold War

With ample renewable energy resources, and the memory of the 1986 Chernobyl power plant disaster still fresh in living memory, it may seem a little odd that Russia would be gung ho on nuclear energy.

However, according to the World Nuclear Association latest update in December 2015, Russia nuclear energy really is a thing. After languishing for about 10 years in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the nation’s domestic industry kicked back into gear and there are plans under way to construct approximately one large reactor per year up to 2028.

WNA also points out that nuclear energy is cemented into Russia’s national character by history. As a birthplace of nuclear power technology, Russia lays claim to be the first in the world to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant. In addition, its nuclear services and manufacturing industries are now an important exporter as well as a domestic supplier.

As for Chernobyl, here’s where it gets interesting. WNA ascribes fault for the catastrophic meltdown to the Cold War, which isolated Russia from the latest design, safety, and operational improvements enjoyed by the rest of the world. With the Cold War long fading into history, problem solved.

Or, maybe not. For the past year or so there have been rumblings of a Cold War revival, which would once again leave the country to go it alone on nuclear risk management.  Here’s Military Times rather breathlessly reporting on the latest:

Early on the morning of Sept. 30, a Russian three-star general approached the American embassy in Baghdad, walked past a wall of well-armed Marines, to deliver face-to-face a diplomatic demarche to the United States. His statement was blunt: The Russia military would begin air strikes in neighboring Syria within the hour — and the American military should clear the area immediately.

It was a bout of brinksmanship between two nuclear-armed giants that the world has not seen in decades, and it has revived Cold War levels of suspicion, antagonism, and gamesmanship.

So, there’s that.

Of course, this all might be bluster and/or wishful thinking on the part of chicken hawks, but considering other modern nuclear catastrophes — Three Mile Island in the US and Fukushima in Japan — in supposedly more well informed countries, Cold War isolation is just one among a number of risk factors unique to nuclear energy.

Russia Nuclear Energy, From A Finnish Point Of View

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at that LUT study, which you can find online at researchnet.gate under the title “Eurasian Super Grid for 100% Renewable Energy power supply: Generation and storage technologies in the cost optimal mix.”

To be clear, the body of the report is an analysis of renewable energy scenarios in Russia and Eurasia, but the point of the report is to demonstrate that there are cheaper — less risky — options than either nuclear energy or coal with carbon capture, as discussed in the conclusion:

The 100% renewable resource-based energy system options for Eurasia presented in this work are considerably lower in cost (about 44-61 %) than the higher risk options, which have still further disadvantages. These include nuclear melt-down risk, nuclear terrorism risk, unsolved nuclear waste disposal…

That point of view certainly won’t make friends over at the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of high powered investors that used the occasion of the COP21 climate talks to lobby for increased investment in nuclear programs.

The report also provides a measure of support for opponents of the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset, England. No matter what the improvements in nuclear power plant safety, the simple fact is that the rapid pace of progress in the renewable energy field is turning nuclear energy into an economic dinosaur.

The LUT Russia Renewable Energy Study

As for the study itself, to paraphrase very loosely, the basic idea is that while energy storage can provide the required stability and reliability for intermittent wind and solar power, energy storage is not necessarily the most economical solution for renewable energy.

Instead, the study argues for the creation of a “Super Grid” that involves building new transmission lines and leveraging Eurasia’s considerable wind energy resources to reduce energy storage costs.

Compared the current situation, in which wind and solar only account for 1.5 percent of a total 388-gigawatt capacity for the Eurasia:

…The modelled energy system is based on wind, hydropower, solar, biomass and some geothermal energy. Wind amounts to about 60 percent of the production whilst solar, biomass and hydropower are distributed evenly. The total installed capacity of renewable energy in the system is about 550 gigawatts. Slightly more than half of this is wind energy and 20 percent is solar. The rest is composed of hydro and biomass supported with power-to-gas, pumped hydro storage and batteries.

The Power-To-Gas Factor

If you caught that thing about power-to-gas, the LUT team identifies it as a key factor in the lower cost of the renewable energy scenario. Power-to-gas refers to the production of hydrogen from water, a process that can be powered by electricity sourced from wind, solar, and other renewable sources.

The LUT study foresees that such systems would undercut the use of natural gas from fossil sources. In addition to undercutting natural gas on price, power-to-gas would also reduce energy storage costs:

…When moving to a renewable energy system, for example, natural gas is replaced with power-to-gas, i.e. converting electricity into gases, such as hydrogen and synthetic natural gas. This increases the overall need for renewable energy. The more renewable capacity is built the more it can be used for different sectors: heating, transportation and industry. This flexibility of the system decreases the need for storages and lowers the cost of energy.

Not a hydrogen fan? Power-to-gas systems have been gaining a lot of traction lately, so take a look at the LUT study and tell us your thoughts in the comment thread.

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Image: LUT via

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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