In a new edition of the cycle Ámbito Debate, industry leaders discussed about nuclear energy, its role in the energy transition and the projects to expand the installed capacity with the construction of a new power plant. Isidro Baschar and Alejandro Estévez, directors of Nucleoeléctrica S.A., the company that operates the nuclear power plants of Embalse and Atucha I and II, spoke on the subject.
Reviewing the role currently played by nuclear energy in the energy matrix, Estévez pointed out: "It represents 4.5% of the installed capacity of the Argentine electric power system. It is around 8% of the electric energy consumed in the country. It is permanent energy, which is not cut off. It is one of the great advantages of nuclear energy, except when there is a scheduled shutdown."
"We are clean energy, because by using uranium, we generate energy without emitting greenhouse gases. As a result of the high load factor and availability, we are able to generate energy without depending on the weather", explained Baschar, who added: "Thinking about the energy transition, thinking about the importance of exporting gas, it would not be bad to complement the energy transition with nuclear energy, which can be complementary to renewables. The word is not competition, it is complementary. It is to work on areas that are still under development, such as renewables. It is what to do when we do not have enough wind or sun to produce energy".
The specialists also mentioned the taboo surrounding nuclear energy, mainly related to safety issues. In this respect, Estévez pointed out: "There is a common message that safety comes first for the industry. For everyone's peace of mind, nuclear energy is a highly regulated energy around the world. Not only domestically, but also internationally. Safety is reviewed on an almost permanent basis."
It is because of these requirements that the pandemic posed an extra challenge for the nuclear power plants, as Baschar said: "It was a job that our staff undertook in an important way, because the constraints forced us to adapt the organization to continue operating safely. During the pandemic we made maintenance shutdowns, in addition to generating record levels of energy, the effort of the workers was enormous. Indeed, we have managed to overcome the hardest part of the pandemic in an efficient manner and without compromising the energy supply".
Estévez also mentioned the work to be carried out at Atucha I to extend the useful life of the nuclear power plant: "The work itself will start in 2024, it will last two years, during which changes will be made in the plant to modernize it. The plant has to be shut down. And then we will have 20 more years of operation at full power, of a plant that was inaugurated in 74. As for the cost, we are talking about u$s450 million, and we will generate electricity for the next twenty years: therefore, the investment cost represents less than 20% of what it will generate".
"We are not doing anything else that other countries in the world are not doing. There is no more profitable investment today, compared to other energy sources, than extending the useful life of nuclear power plants in operation. There is an opportunity to maintain and sustain this installed capacity, which will be fundamental in the framework of the energy transition", added Baschar.
Finally, the directors of Nucleoeléctrica mentioned the project to build Atucha III. "Today there are 441 nuclear power plants operating in the world and 53 under construction. Of those 53, 15 are being built in China, which is our main partner to build Atucha III", said Baschar.
"The Atucha III project is worth u$s8,500 million equivalent . It is a project that contemplates 1,200 megawatts installed, it is a project that will be built in 8 years. Regarding the financing, China will provide it: today we are talking about 85% of the total and we are making efforts so that the financing will be 100%", added Estévez.