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Frequently asked questions - General


Is nuclear power an option for New Zealand's electricity needs?

Answer:  From Chair, David Caygill

Although the Electricity Commission has no role in choosing which resources generating companies build in New Zealand, I believe that nuclear power is the wrong choice for the country, and I can give several reasons why that’s the case.

Firstly, from a cost standpoint, nuclear plants produce power about twice as expensively as the plants that have been built in New Zealand recently. In our market system, I don’t believe that any generation company is going to step forward and build a nuclear plant.

The second problem is size. With nuclear power technology today, the typical plant built in the rest of the world is about 1000 Megawatts or even slightly bigger, often about 1200 Megawatts of power. The average demand/generation in all of New Zealand is about 4500 megawatts. So a nuclear plant would be a very substantial portion of the average generation, which would end up creating system problems.

Even if a 600 megawatt nuclear plant were built, it would be by far the largest plant on one shaft in New Zealand, 50% larger than the plants at Otahuhu B and Huntly.

Plants trip offline when there is a problem, and the system must be prepared for that contingency all the time. There has to be backup generation, ready to go instantaneously, to be able to fill the gap that’s left by that plant not operating. This is difficult enough now when New Zealand's largest single generation is 375 megawatts. However, a 1200 Megawatt plant - or even a 600 megawatt plant – when it trips offline would require an unreasonably large amount of generation sitting there as a backup. So from a size standpoint, nuclear would be problematic

Thirdly, a nuclear plant runs flat out, it does not follow load up or down. The presence of a nuclear plant would require all other generation in the country to operate to follow load and would change the economics negatively for many other power plants. (Alternatively, making nuclear plants bear this cost would make them even more expensive).

And finally, nuclear really requires a whole industry to go along with it, such as universities that train nuclear engineers and a whole backup system of spare parts and people who know how to maintain and repair nuclear plants. The nearest nuclear plant to New Zealand is, I believe, in China—that’s a long way to call for service. That would add either to the cost or the risk of a nuclear plant.

We really want to have generation in New Zealand that is appropriate, and the current technology that’s available in nuclear will not work here. So I don’t think it is right for New Zealand.


Last update on 22 May 2008 05:33 PM