Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Socialist Venezuela Goes for Nuclear Energy

It was announced last week that Russia will be providing Venezuela 2 1200 MW VVER reactors. Discussions have been ongoing since revolutionary nationalist Hugo Chavez was first elected there. Venezuela has a history of nuclear research, having run a small research and development reactor of 10 years ending in 1994.

But the reality is that Venezuela has no nuclear infrastructure in place. This will have to be built from scratch. What does this entail? It entails the development of an NRC-like body that can oversee nuclear development in the country, hire consultants from the outside and educate a new generation of nuclear, mechanical, electrical, safety and radiological engineers and experts to be able to build and run such a project.

All countries that currently enjoy nuclear energy have had to do this. As most of the 'blue prints' for this sort of development have already been established and are now under going a new growth in newer nuclear energy countries, it will be a slow, but wll understood process. The U.A.E, Jordan, Indonesia, Iran and Vietnam to name a few non-nuclear countries that are now in this middle of this process shows it can be done.

The World Nuclear Association has this to say about Venezuela’s nuclear energy perspectives:

“The National Assembly is working on legislation which includes nuclear power as an option. The President announced in November 2007 that the country will pursue a nuclear power program, inspired by Brazil and Argentina. Late in 2008 he announced that this would be with Russian help, and the first unit would be in the northwestern province of Sulia. A civil nuclear cooperation agreement was signed with Russia in November 2008 and further nuclear agreements in April and October 2010. The country also has very close links with Iran.
“The last of these Russian agreements provides for construction of two nuclear reactors of 1200 MWe each and also for construction of a research reactor to produce radioisotopes, as well as relevant infrastructure and training. No timeline is set.
“The government has confirmed that Iran is assisting with geophysical surveys related to uranium exploration, but there is no mining. Unconfirmed reports in 2009 of uranium exports to Iran have been denied. A Canadian company, U3O8 Corp, is exploring for uranium in the Guyana part of the Roraima Basin, which straddles the border.
“The country had a small (3 MW) research reactor operating 1960-94, and in mid 2009 was discussing with Atomenergoprom the construction of another.”

The Russian reactors are the most advanced of the older, well proven reactors Russia has built in the smaller MW outputs. India and China are both building the VVER reactors and so the learning curve is comng down, something the Venezuelan can take advantage of.

Venezuela has been blessed with a abundance of hydro electricity. Upwards of 70% of their electrical energy is derived from gravity produced power of water falls, of which Venezuela has an abundance of. But...even as the Venezuelan Revolution has advanced by nationalizing it's under-invested, poorly run *private* electrical companies, climate change is beginning to show it's ugly face in Venezuela today. Left-Atomics is particularly happy with this move as a large amount of that private electrical generation and grid were foreign owned. A combination of the long running "El Nino" weather patterns and climate change has reduced overall rain-fall throughout Venezuela's extensive rain forest areas, thus reducing enough of the country's electrical generation, exacerbating the shortages of energy throughout the country.

The revolutionary government there is pledged to make the Venezuelan electrical grid stronger and more robust. It is 'walking the walk' by investing heavily in grid upgrades and some fossil fuel power plants. Grid control and oversight now resides in both governmental boards and the workers who actually know the system best. The workers in this industry are heavily committed to Venezuela's socialist future, one that will have to rely on a better reliability, expansion and efficiencies both in generation, distribution AND in usage.

So why nuclear? Venezuela certainly has the fossil AND the hydro resources to allow fo the continued expansion of consumer (residential) and commercial/industrial load ("load" is th technical term of the process of "using electricity"). Cleary, with climate change, Venezuela's future hydro usage is somewhat questionable. It will never completely disappear but with the ever large swings in precipitation, the reliability of this energy for base load/on-demand-power is more and more in question. Additionally, almost all of the country's hydro power and future hydropower potential resides in the south and south-east of the country, the load, however, is in the north and north-west of the country (The Guyana Province of Venezuela, located in the south east of the country is also a big user, as this is the center of the country’s steel industry). This makes it necessary to rely on very long transmission lines for all the hydro electricity produced, and, with counter-revolutionary sabotage a real and present danger, Venezuela’s energy security is also a prime-motivation for dispersing the country's generation to a larger degree that what exists now.

Left-Atomics is not thrilled about the energy situation in Revolutionary Venezuela, especially seeing that more fossil fuel, mostly smaller diesel-electric generators, will be deployed. We are happy, however, that Venezuela is finally putting it's petro-dollars to good energy use with regard to the deployment of the two large Russian reactors. We don't know where they will be deployed or even if they will deployed in same sight location. But it will likely be a lot closer to the load that needs it, thus saving on transmission costs AND security costs and concerns.

Secondly, Venezuela is also concerned about “energy sovereignty,” a term that is bandied about in the media. For Venezuela this takes on added meaning, as it does for countries like India and Iran. This energy sovereignty can only be achieved via a complete cutoff from US-original technology. The U.S. regularly uses these 'technology' strings to demand political concessions from those countries the US seeks to dominate, politically and economically. The US can simply end any sale of what it claims is its technology to any country based on "national security" grounds. This has stymied nuclear energy growth around the world as well as the development of nuclear energy technology in the U.S. itself since it artificially reduces markets to fit the political schema of the U.S. State and Defense departments.

Thus, going with Russia, which is generally immune from such pressures, seems like a smart idea given Venezuela’s own anti-Imperialist foreign and domestic policy.

The two VVER 1200 reactors would provide 2400 MWs of on demand base load power for the country’s growing electrical load. It is, however, less than 8% of the total load the country uses. Would this portend the development of future reactors in other locations around the nation? We won’t know until the Chavez government lays out a more specific program for deploying nuclear energy under the aegis of the Bolivarian Revolution.


d4d said...

You will not believe the hell this is going to raise here in the good old USA.

Alex Steiner said...

If you can make a case for a socialist nuclear energy program I would like to hear it. Can you respond to the blog on that topic at the permanent-revolution.org web site?

DW said...