The number of nuclear power plants commissioned globally is set to peak this year after rising sharply since 2015, indicating a dip in demand for metals used in reactors in the early 2020s.
The extended lead time for nuclear project construction means that demand for metals used in plant equipment long precedes the commissioning of a reactor unit. The average construction time for a plant is around eight years.
The Bulgarian energy ministry, which recently said that it plans to select a bidder for its two-unit Belene project in May, expects the plant to be completed by 2030. Bangladesh expects to complete its two-unit Rooppur plant in 2024, having started construction in 2017, its state minister for foreign affairs confirmed yesterday at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear conference in Vienna.
Belarus is commissioning its first nuclear plant, Ostrovets, with unit 1 set to start commercial production in the first quarter, followed by unit 2 at the end of the year. That is scheduled to be the first of 14 nuclear units around the world starting operation in 2020, up from six in 2019, data from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) show. The projects are predominantly in Asia-Pacific and eastern Europe, with six of the 14 units in China. Total unit start-ups are scheduled to fall to nine in 2021 and 2022, and to just two by 2025 (see chart).
The decline points to lower consumption of metals in the nuclear sector — including hafnium, zirconium, indium and rare earths — after a spike in construction in recent years.
Zirconium alloy is used in the cladding of fuel rods in a reactor because it has a low rate of neutron absorption and is heat and corrosion resistant, while hafnium is used in control rods that adjust the nuclear fission process because it absorbs neutrons at a high rate. Silver-indium-cadmium alloy can alternatively be used in control rods.
Hafnium is typically extracted in the production of nuclear-grade zirconium, and while the nuclear industry accounts for around 11pc of demand, supply in recent years has fluctuated depending on demand for nuclear-grade zirconium. China has increased its hafnium production capacity to supply its nuclear plant projects — there are 11 units under construction and targeting completion by 2024, with 25 having started operation in the past five years.
But a new round of nuclear projects could get under way later in the decade. China has slowed its approval of new projects to await the commercial development of the fourth generation of reactor technology. Worldwide, 47 reactors have reached the construction phase, but there are more than 100 units in various stages of planning. That would take the total number of nuclear plants to 552 worldwide, WNA data show. And with more nuclear reactors in operation, the need for replacement control rods at the end of their lifespan in operational plants will increase.
Source: Argus Media