Now that energy transition is occupying more and more people, and climate plans are being drawn up all over the country, local authorities too are wondering whether nuclear energy could be an option. The NRG nuclear research institute in Petten has already received questions from several regions. Nuclear energy expert Wim Turkenburg has also been asked for information by various provinces. But the answers given by the experts vary.
Earlier today, the VVD called for the construction of three to ten new nuclear power stations in the Netherlands. The party referred to a new study, by the nuclear consultancy ENCO, which shows that nuclear energy is no more expensive than solar and wind energy if certain conditions are met.
Geert Jan de Haas of the Petten Institute underlines the importance of including all costs for each technology, so that the costs of nuclear energy are comparable to those for sun and wind. He explains that NRG has received questions, particularly from the east of the country, from people working on the so-called Regional Energy Strategies. They gave as their reason that they do not want to fill up their entire area with windmills and solar parks.
“We have replied that a decision to build a nuclear power plant will be taken at national level. But if, for example, there is to be a new power station in Zeeland, it will mean that there will be less solar and wind energy elsewhere’
According to De Haas, there are nuclear reactors of all shapes and sizes, very large ones in France for example, while those in Borssele are of modest size. Nowadays, even smaller reactors are being developed. “They can then be bought in blocks, as it were, as a sort of kit. You can then put down as many as you need in a particular location. For example, in places where a lot of energy is used, such as Botlek, Pernis or Chemelot
Because the production process of those modules has been standardised, their price will be lower. According to De Haas, nuclear energy can play a good role alongside solar and wind energy. “Particularly because a nuclear power station can always supply electricity, even when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing
The provinces of South Holland, North Holland and Brabant have turned to Wim Turkenburg, among others. “Questions regularly arise, for example, about the so-called thorium reactor, which is safer than current nuclear power stations and also produces less radioactive waste. But then I have to disappoint them“, says Turkenburg. “It will be at least another 30 years before knowledge and technology are sufficiently advanced to be able to actually build them in our country
Turkenburg sits on the Supervisory Board of NRG, as does a new smaller reactor to be built in Petten, called Pallas. Building new reactors in series will indeed make them cheaper, he too expects. “But the first one will probably be expensive. So far politics has said: anyone can build a new plant, but you have to pay for it yourself. No company does that. I suspect that politicians will have to put EUR 5 billion on the table in order to get energy companies to do that’
Reduction in the price of solar cells and wind turbines
One of the barriers for businesses, according to Turkenburg, is the fall in the price of solar and wind energy. “When there is a lot of sun and wind, the price of electricity plummets. That makes it very difficult for nuclear power to compete with it The new study by ENCO does not sufficiently describe developments of this kind, he thinks. “The prices of solar cells and wind turbines they mention for 2040 are already about to be reached. The Ministry should know that too. And the fall in prices is expected to continue”
Utrecht University has also carried out research simulating the future hourly electricity supply in the Netherlands and Western Europe in the period 2040-2050. “This type of research has also been carried out in the US. This provides insights that are more pessimistic for nuclear energy. It is unfortunate that such studies have not been included in the ENCO report”
Yet Turkenburg, too, thinks that sun and wind alone are not enough. That is why, just as in the case of nuclear energy, a great deal of research is taking place into geothermal energy, hydrogen, sustainable biomass and the underground storage of CO2.