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September, 2010:

Nuclear Power and the Environment



Nuclear power has been presented as providing net environmental benefits.  Specifically, nuclear power makes no contribution to global warming through the emission of carbon dioxide.  Nuclear power also produces no notable sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, or particulates.  When nuclear power is produced, nothing is burned in a conventional sense.  Heat is produced through nuclear fission, not oxidation. Nuclear power does produce spent fuels of roughly the same mass and volume as the fuel that the reactor takes in.  These spent fuels are kept within the reactor’s fuel assemblies, thus unlike fossil fuels, which emit stack gasses to the ambient environment, solid wastes at nuclear power plants are contained throughout the generation process. No particulates or ash are emitted.

Waste from a nuclear plant is primarily a solid waste, spent fuel, and some process chemicals, steam, and heated cooling water.  Such waste differs from a fossil fuel plant’s waste in that its volume and mass are small relative to the electricity produced. The waste is under the control of the plant operators and subsequent waste owners or managers, including the Department of Energy, until it is disposed.  Nuclear waste also differs from fossil fuels in that spent fuel is radioactive while only a minute share of the waste from a fossil plant is radioactive.  Solid waste from a nuclear plant or from a fossil fuel plant can be toxic or damaging to the environment, often in ways unique to the particular category of plant and fuel.  Waste from the nuclear power plant is managed to the point of disposal, while a substantial part of the fossil fuel waste, especially stack gases and particulates are unmanaged after release from the plant.[1]

Some fossil fuel-based emission can be limited or managed through pollution control equipment or procedures that generally increase the cost of building or managing the power plant either to the plant owner or to the public.  Similarly, nuclear plant operators and managers must spend money to control the radioactive wastes from their plants until the wastes are disposed in an appropriate manner.  An environmental component of any decision between building a nuclear or a fossil fuel plant is the cost of such controls and how they might change the costs of building and operating the power plant.  Controversial decisions must also be made regarding what controls are appropriate.

The issue of whether nuclear plants actually present a net positive environmental gain compared to fossil fuels depends on the values that are placed on the wastes that each type of plant produces.  Nuclear power provides an environmental benefit by almost entirely eliminating airborne wastes and particulates generated during power generation.  Nuclear power creates a cost in the form of relatively small volumes of radioactive wastes that are produced that must be managed prior to ultimate disposal.  Fossil fuels also produce unwanted solid wastes though the problems associated with these wastes differ from spent nuclear fuel.  Neither waste stream is desirable.  On a pound per pound basis the potential environment costs of waste produced by nuclear plant is usually viewed as higher than the environmental cost of most wastes from fossil fuels plants.  The volume of waste from the nuclear plant is substantially less and better controlled.  Any claim of environmental gain from nuclear power compared to fossil fuels asserts that the nuclear waste stream in aggregate is the lesser of two unwanted evils and that the electricity produced is worthwhile.

There are at least two alternatives for managing the waste streams from power generation.  First, renewable or alternative fuels are available for power generation in addition to nuclear and fossil fuel generation.  Such fuels carry their own positive and negative environmental effects.  These power sources have not however demonstrated a potential to provide electricity in volumes that can compare to nuclear and fossil fuels, though they can contribute to any environmental mitigation programs.

The second consideration is demand management.  Wastes associated with power generation would decline if less power were demanded.  Because there are many ways to carry out specific economic activities, the energy requirements for each alternative also vary.  Using less energy (or electricity) can result in desired environmental gains at lower costs. Demand management also recognizes that electricity follows daily, weekly, and seasonal cycles.  Flattening such cycle can affect fuel use and fuel choice.  Demand management is a separate question from fuel choice, though the two processes can be complementary.  This is especially relevant to nuclear power vs. fossil fuel choices when demand cycles are flattened.  Nuclear power is generally seen as a better fuel for base load (stable demand) conditions than for meeting cyclical peak loads.  The same can however also be said for coal as a better base load fuel than as a peaking fuel.  Levelning demand cycles might thus favor coal or nuclear power over gas or oil.  Demand management might thus be an effective tool for controlling environmental emissions.  It might lead to emissions, if more coal is consumed.  Demand management is excluded here as a separate issue from fuel choice itself.

Nuclear Power Plant Wastes

There are restrictions on the disposition of such wastes.  Restrictions are imposed through legislation, regulation, and the commitments of plant owner/operators.  From a public perspective, such restrictions represent a collective measure of the cost and value of each type of emission.  The rules do not represent the values that each individual places on the emission, thus opinions will vary on the adequacy of particular emission policies.

Restrictions usually vary with the type of waste.  Because wastes produced from power plants vary with the fuel, potential environmental controls consequently vary with the type of power plant.  There are also variations in the desired level control of some emissions from nuclear power plants.  For example, coolant water discharges might affect temperature conditions in neighboring bodies of water.  Such discharges alter the ecology of these bodies of water and it becomes a policy issue whether the change has a negative value and what that value is.  The answer to such questions will determine what controls and expenses will be required related to that coolant water disposal.  The levels of permitted discharge rules do vary by jurisdiction.

By far the greatest environmental waste concern at an operating nuclear power plant is spent fuel disposal.[2] Because nothing is burned (oxidized) during the fission process, little fuel volume or mass is changed during nuclear power generation.[3] The fuel exists under controlled conditions from the first insertion into the reactor until its removal from the reactor.  This control continues until “final disposition” of the spent fuel.  Disagreements can exist as to what constitutes final disposition though with most nuclear spent fuel that disposition is some form of burial.  Burial is also the “final disposition” for most solid wastes from fossil fuel plants though restrictions on nuclear solid wastes are usually much more strict.

The nature of the nuclear fuel changes during power generation because generation produces fission and fusion products within the fuel units and also in materials neighboring the fuel units. Nuclear fuel becomes spent fuel when these fission and fusion products accumulate to an extent that the nuclear fuel is no longer adequate for additional power generation use.  Considerable energy content of the fuel is unused in this process.  There is ongoing disagreement whether such unused content is economically usable in the form of reprocessed fuel.

The spent fuel has different radiation and chemical characteristics from the initial nuclear fuel.  These characteristics necessitate special handling of the waste above and beyond the handling of the initial fuel.  Such handling requires expenses that are part of the costs of nuclear power production.  Potential procedures for handling spent fuel vary.[4] Procedures include recycling (reprocessing) substantial portions of the spent fuel as usable nuclear fuels and transmuting problem components of nuclear fuel into less harmful components.  In the United States, for both policy and economic reasons, final disposition has targeted the ultimate burial of all spent fuels from nuclear power plants.  Reprocessing and transmutation remain options that are under periodic policy consideration though such processes also involve the ultimate burial of spent fuel components.  Reprocessing and transmutation would alter the timing, volume, duration, and conditions of such burials.  They would also increase the costs of the nuclear power plant operation, probably significantly.  The choice is between the costs of reprocessing and transmutation compared to the higher operating costs that these processes involve.  Additional costs are involved because reprocessing has the potential of facilitating weapons proliferation.

The US Department of Energy has by statute ultimate responsibility for the disposal of spent nuclear fuels.  The point and timing of Department of Energy custody of such waste is an active subject for the court system and for negotiations between power generators and the Department.  Nuclear fuel disposal costs are funded by a surcharge on the cost of nuclear fuels.  Presently this charge is 0.1 cents/kWh of power generated.  Charges are intended to cover the costs of disposal of nuclear wastes, though they are levied on power generation and not waste.  The funds accumulated for spent fuel disposal have sometimes been identified as a public subsidy to the nuclear power industry.[5] Whether this is the case depends very much on perspective and definition.  Spent fuel disposal constitutes more extensive and direct federal government involvement in waste disposal than is the case for most other forms of power generation.[6] Views favoring government involvement include special hazards from spent fuel and national security issues arising from reprocessed spent fuels which might be upgraded to weapons-grade conditions.

Economic subsidy issues also arise regarding whether the funds provided by nuclear power generators adequately cover the costs of the ultimate disposal of the nuclear wastes.  The targeted ultimate burial site for spent fuels, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, has not yet been opened and has also been challenged in the courts.  Ultimate disposal has thus not occurred for most spent fuels.  Most spent fuels are now in temporary storage at the reactors where they were produced or in intermediate storage either at the reactors or alternative sites.

The Interaction of Fossil Fuel and Nuclear Power Waste Decisions

There are three practical and significantly expandable forms of electricity generation in the United States: coal, natural gas, and nuclear.  Oil and oil product based generation is less thoroughly discussed in this section because relatively high oil prices discourage use in quantity for power generation and are anticipated to continue to do so in the future.  This is especially the case for base load power generation, the sub-market where nuclear power has been most attractive.  Alternative and renewable power sources are insufficiently expandable to compete significantly with coal, natural gas, and nuclear power.

Coal and natural gas present parallel environmental problems, though the volume and proportion of particular emissions, for example sulfur dioxide or carbon dioxide, vary between them.  Nuclear power is sufficiently different from oil and natural gas that the tradeoffs between nuclear power and fossil fuels (oil and natural gas) vary whether it is coal or natural gas that is replaced.  In the case of coal, there is also a capacity to chose among fuels which are high or low in sulfur, ash, and other emission contents.  Fossil fuels also permit variations in emission based on burner types, technology choices, and emission control equipment.

Sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-based power plants have been subject to “allowances” since 1995 under guidelines arranged under the Clean Air Act of 1990.  An allowance is a permit for a power plant to emit one tonne of a pollutant such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) per year.  Allowances are allocated to specific power plants that produce SO2 emissions.  Thus, if a plant has 5000 allowances for the year, at the end of the year its SO2 emissions must have must not exceed 5000 tonnes.  Allowance allocation criteria have varied over time.  Presently there is a “cap and trade” arrangement for power plant emissions.  Allowances are marketable (tradable) among SO2 producing firms.  If one plant produces less SO2 than its allowance limits, it can sell that allowance to a plant that cannot meet its limits.  Overall emission levels (the cap) are regulated by government policy.  Nothing is ever so simple, of course, and there are further components of the process that are not addressed here.  In addition some regional allowance systems account for emissions other than SO2.

Allowances are usually allocated based on the energy (British Thermal Unit) content of the plant’s heat input, though there are exceptions and additions to these limits.  There is thus less reward in the form of allowances to power plants that have higher thermal efficiencies.  Allowances are granted primarily to power generation units that burn coal because natural gas burning units produce little SO2.  Similarly, nuclear power plants are also excluded from the allowance system.  New allowances have generally not been allocated to new power plants or for upgrades of existing emitting units.  (This relates to the highly controversial topic of “new source review” regarding coal plant modifications.)  The allowance system regulates overall emissions (caps) from units that presently operate.  The allowance system does not directly reward firms that build non-emitting units because these units are not usually granted allowances, though the impact is similar, though indirect, as caps are tightened or as plants within the emitting category are permitted to expand.

Some local and regional nitrogen oxide allowances have been selectively considered for nuclear power plants during 2002 for upgrades in capacity.  These allowances are minor in volume but would reward the plants for avoided emissions.  Nuclear plant owners would be able to sell such allowance improving the profitability of their plants.  Within the cap and trade environment this would mean proportionally less allowances being allocated to SO2 emitting plant owners or operators, provided the total cap is not expanded.

The results of any allowance re-allocations to nuclear plants would be complicated by the fact that owners of coal and nuclear plants are often the same corporations though the proportions of nuclear to coal plant ownership vary.  Some fossil plant owners might see granting allowances to nuclear plant operators as increasing their own operating costs.  Others might see allowances to nuclear power plants as a mechanism that would permit the prolonged and perhaps upgraded operation of their existing coal plants.  The actual allocation system and any emissions cap might be anticipated to determine individual operator attitudes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the following average emission levels in the production of 1 MWh of electricity
Pounds of Emissions per MWh
Coal Oil Natural Gas Nuclear
Carbon Dioxide 2249 1672 1135 0
Sulfur Dioxide 13 12 0.1 0
Nitrogen Oxides 6 4 1.7 0
Source: energy/impacts

For fossil fuel-burning power plants, solid waste is primarily a problem for coal-based power.  Approximately 10% of the content of coal is ash.  Ash often includes metal oxides and alkali.  Such residues require disposal, generally burial, though some recycling is possible, in a manner that limits migration into the general environment.  Volumes can be substantial. When burned in a power plant, oil also yields residues that are not completely burned and thus accumulate.  These residues must also be disposed as solid wastes. Natural gas does not produce significant volumes of combustion-based solid wastes.  Nuclear does produce spent fuels.

Nuclear power produces around 2,000 metric tonnes/per annum of spent fuel.  This amounts to 0.006 lbs/MWh.  If a typical nuclear power plant is 1000 MWe in capacity and operates 91% of the time, waste production would be 45,758 lbs./annum or slightly less than 23 tons. The solid waste from a nuclear power plant is thus not the volume of the waste, which is very small, but the special handling required for satisfactory disposal.  A similar amount of electricity from coal would yield over 300,000 tons of ash, assuming 10% ash content in the coal.  Processes (specifically scrubbing) for removing ash from coal plant emissions are generally highly successful but result in greater volumes of limestone solid wastes (plus water) than the volume of ash removed.

The preceding discussion used averages.  Different plants operate differently.  This case is most stark for oil where products used to generate electricity range from rather heavy fuel oil to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).  These products produce different sulfur dioxide and metals emissions profiles.  Sulfur content of oil products also varies considerably within category group, most notably fuel oil and gasoil (diesel).  Coal is even more variable in energy, ash, sulfur, and metal content.  Natural gas and LPG are more consistent in fuel character.

Any environmental gains from switching from fossil-based fuels to nuclear fuel thus depend on which fuel is replaced and which emission is of principal concern.  While the gain in most airborne emissions between nuclear and coal is significant across the board, emission reductions increasingly focus on carbon emissions as one moves from solid to liquid to gaseous fuels.  Within each fuel category there is also a potential to burn lower sulfur content varieties.  Lower sulfur fuels thus present a partial alternative to replacement of generation capacity by nuclear power, if the aggregate (cap) emission level of sulfur is the policy goal.  A more strict emission cap would be more attractive regarding nuclear power industry than a less severe cap.

The economic and environmental choice in regard to emissions reduction thus focuses on the relative value placed on fossil fuel emission vs. spent fuel production at a nuclear power plant and on the alternative sources of emissions mitigation compared to any added cost from nuclear power production. This view accepts the historic experience that nuclear power is more expensive to build than conventional fossil fuel units.  The decline of new nuclear power plant construction since the 1970s and 1980s culminated in the completion of the last new nuclear power reactor in the United States in 1996 (Watts Bar 1).  While as many as four construction licenses remain in effect (or are to be extended) until the early 2010s, there is little anticipation that any new nuclear plant.

World’s largest offshore wind farm opens in Kent

AFP   23 Sept 2010

The 380ft (115m) turbines are spaced out over an area of more than 22 square miles (35 square km)

LONDON — The world’s largest offshore wind farm was officially opened off the east Kent coast on Thursday, a forest of turbines that aims to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions.

The site near Thanet has 100 turbines and Swedish energy company Vattenfall, which constructed the farm, says it has the potential to power 200,000 homes, or more than 25 percent of households in the county.

The farm will increase the UK’s capacity to generate wind power by more than 30 percent.

The 380ft (115m) turbines are spaced out over an area of more than 22 square miles (35 square km) and are visible from the shore on a clear day.

The site, situated around seven miles (12 km) out to sea, is expected to produce 300 megawatts of energy at full capacity and which would see overall UK renewable energy capacity rise to 5 gigawatts.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne has welcomed recent progress on wind power in the UK.

“We are in a unique position to become a world leader in this industry,” Huhne said.

“We are an island nation and I firmly believe we should be harnessing our wind, wave and tidal resources to the maximum.

“I know that there is still more to do to bring forward the large sums of investment we want to see in low-carbon energy in the UK, and we as a Government are committed to playing our part.”

Craig Bennett, the campaigns and policy director for Friends of the Earth, said the Thanet wind farm was an “important stride forward” but warned the UK’s record on renewable energy was “dismal”.

Critics point out that the turbines only produce energy when the wind is blowing and that as yet no cost-effective fuel cell has been developed for storing the power once it has been produced.

Professor Ian Fells, an energy expert, told the BBC: “What worries me is the government seems to be obsessed with the option of wind farms and neglects other sources of renewable energy, which in many ways could be more important.

“The other problem is they are intermittent. You never know when the wind is going to blow.”

In all, up to 341 turbines will be installed at the site over a four-year period.

Construction work at the £780m wind farm began two years ago and was completed this month.

There are currently around 250 wind farms operating in the UK, with a further 12 offshore, with 2,909 turbines in operation in total.

We should explore the use of offshore wave and tidal power

SCMP    letter from readers  22 sept 2010

The Environmental Protection Department issued a target of slashing carbon emissions in Hong Kong by up to 33 per cent in a decade, while positive action is awaited on mandating the city’s air quality standards. Some green groups quoted by the South China Morning Post(SEHK: 0583announcementsnews) (not Clear the Air) commented that increased nuclear imports proposed by the government were not the solution to reducing local carbon emissions.

The US Environmental Protection Agency figures for CO{-2} (carbon dioxide), sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions for coal-powered generation per each megawatt hour of electricity produced (kilograms) are 1,022/5.9/2.73 respectively. For natural gas the kilograms emissions are 516/0.045 /0.77 respectively. The emissions for nuclear power generation are zero.

CLP Power (SEHK: 0002)’s sustainability report states it intends to move towards a 50 per cent fuel mix using natural gas and to import more nuclear power. CLP also has rights to import 50 per cent of the capacity of Phase 1 of the Guangzhou Pumped Storage Power Station at Conghua. CLP Power is converting its A station at Castle Peak to natural gas-powered turbines while its B station has been retrofitted with desulphurisation units to allow it (unfortunately) to continue to burn coal.

In 2009, the fuel mix for CLP Power for locally supplied power was – coal, 44.5 per cent; nuclear, 30.6 per cent; gas, 24.7 per cent; oil, 0.2 per cent.

Figures for Hongkong Electric (SEHK: 0006)’s fuel mix in 2009 were – 20 per cent gas, 80 per cent coal. It stated it intended to increase its gas mix to 30 per cent in 2010. The figures show which power company is relying more on polluting fossil fuel as its major source of energy production.

Hong Kong lacks the land area for large renewable energy solar plants that are used in California, and wind power stations in Scandinavia, the mainland and India. Neither does it have rivers that could produce clean hydroelectric power. It is, however, surrounded by sea, and the relevant authorities should explore the use of offshore wave and tidal power in the long term.

The two local power companies should fully interconnect with the mainland grid to reduce back-up, and hence less wastage, and have a more flexible connection capability (as in Australia) where households can sell their excess solar power back to the grid.

The cost of a typical CO{-2} capture system for a small, 800-megawatt (MW) fossil fuel power station could cost US$750 million, thus possibly affecting Scheme of Control agreements. By comparison, Castle Peak Power Company’s local installed capacity is 6,908 MW and Hongkong Electric’s installed capacity is 3,756 MW.

Meanwhile, there is a dire need for emissions control area legislation to restrict the burning of bunker fuel in Pearl River Delta coastal waters. Also, we need to see the removal of pre-Euro and Euro I diesel vehicles from our roads.

James Middleton, chairman, energy committee, Clear the Air

Lawsuit asks if science was manipulated in oil spill estimates

Last posted: September 17, 2010

Source: McClatchy

An environmental whistleblower group charges in a lawsuit that the Obama administration is withholding documents that would reveal why it issued an estimate on the gravity of the Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout that later was proved to be far too low.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued Thursday in federal court, claiming that federal officials are withholding hundreds of pages of reports and communications between scientists on the Flow Rate Technical Group, who were tasked with making the estimates, and Marcia McNutt, the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, who chaired the technical group and released a summary of its findings.

The controversy over the oil flow estimates is part of a broader question about whether political appointees at the top of the Obama administration have manipulated and publicized incorrect or incomplete scientific information in an attempt to tamp down anxiety and anger over the world’s worst oil accident.

The failure to assess the damage from BP’s spill also is seen as hampering the government’s continued efforts to clean up the Gulf.

“This lawsuit will produce Exhibit A for the case that science is still being manipulated under the current administration,” Jeff Ruch, the executive director of the environmental organization, said in a statement.

“Our concern is that the administration took, and is still taking, steps to falsely minimize public perception about the extent and severity of the BP spill, a concern that the administration could start to dispel by releasing these documents,” Ruch said.

Ruch said that some of the missing information was thought to show that the USGS knew in May, when it released an estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, that there was a completed estimate that was much higher.

In August, after the well had been capped, the government produced a new estimate as much as five times higher, based on better information from pressure readings and other analysis. It said that the oil flowed at a rate of 62,000 barrels of oil per day at first and later slowed to 53,000 barrels a day, with a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percent. Based on that finding, the official estimate is that 4.1 million barrels of oil poured into the Gulf from April to July.

Questions also have been raised about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s report in August that said that 74 percent of the oil had been captured, dispersed, skimmed or burned, or had evaporated or dissolved. NOAA hasn’t released scientific findings to back up that assessment.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility’s lawsuit doesn’t target NOAA, however. The nonprofit environmental protection group acts on behalf of concerned government insiders.

The advocacy group sought the documents on estimates of the oil flow under the Freedom of Information Act. The USGS posted some of the requested materials on its website, but the group said in its lawsuit that it had sought hundreds more that the agency didn’t release.

Those include communications between McNutt and her staff and members of the flow-rate technical team, including e-mails and minutes of conferences, and all reports by the team that contain estimates of the maximum oil leak rate.

The technical group was supposed to look at the worst-case scenario, and it isn’t known whether it gave a higher estimate to the government’s oil-spill response center, Ruch said.

USGS spokeswoman Anne-Betty Wade referred questions to the Department of Interior, whose spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility claims that McNutt originally didn’t reveal that the May figures were a minimum estimate. The agency updated the news release in June.

Early on, after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig in April, officials put the flow at 1,000 barrels a day. They raised that to 5,000 barrels based on overhead visual estimates and stuck to that figure for weeks, even after it became apparent that much of the oil was remaining below the surface and out of sight.

The oil spill data isn’t the only issue that’s worrying the group.

In March 2009, not long after he was sworn in, Obama issued an executive memorandum that said his administration would adopt policies to protect scientific integrity. He directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop those policies by July 9, 2009.

The policies still haven’t been issued.

“We pointed out the reason the Bush administration could manipulate science was because there were no rules against it, and there still aren’t,” Ruch said.

Letter from Clear The Air to SCMP

13 Sept. 2010

Dear Mr Lee

Hong Kong Government’s EPA issued a target of slashing local carbon emissions by up to 33 per cent in a decade whilst positive action is awaited on mandating  the city’s Air Quality Standards .

Green Groups quoted by SCMP (not Clear the Air) commented that increased nuclear imports  proposed by Government were not the solution to reducing local carbon emissions.  US EPA figures for CO2, Sulphur  and NOx emissions for coal powered generation per each MWh of electricity produced  (kgs) are 1,022 / 5.9 / 2.73 respectively ; for natural gas the emissions are (kgs) 516 / 0.045 /0.77 respectively.  The emissions for nuclear power generation are  0 / 0 / 0 respectively – zero.

Source: energy/impacts

The report on comparison of fossil fuel versus nuclear is available at the US Department of Energy site:

CLP’s  sustainability report states it intends to move towards 50 % fuel mix using natural gas and to import more nuclear power .   CLP also has rights to import  50 per cent of the capacity of Phase 1 of the Guangzhou Pumped Storage Power Station at Conghua.

CLP is converting its ‘A’ station at Castle Peak to natural gas powered turbines whilst its ‘B’ station has been retrofitted with Desulphurization units to allow it (unfortunately) to continue to burn coal.

In 2009 the fuel mix for CLP for locally supplied power was :

Coal : 44.5%, Nuclear: 30.6%; Gas: 24.7%; Oil: 0.2%. CLP Figures on the fuel mix (presumably mainly coal) for generation of CLP’s 13,433 Terajoules  of electricity exported to Guangdong in 2009 were absent.

Figures for HK Electric (HEC)  fuel mix in  2009 are 20% gas / 80% coal. HEC states it intends to increase its gas mix to 30% in 2010.  The figures  show which power company is relying more on polluting fossil fuel as its major source of energy production.

Hong Kong lacks the land area for large renewable energy solar plants as used in California and wind power stations  as in Scandinavia , China and India. Neither does it have rivers that could produce clean hydro electric power. It is however surrounded by sea and the relevant authorities  should explore the use of offshore wave / tidal  power in the long term.

The two local power companies should fully interconnect with the Mainland grid to reduce backup and hence less wastage and have a more flexible connection capability (as in Australia) where households can sell their excess solar power back to the grid.  The cost of a typical CO2 capture system for a small 800MW fossil fuel power station could cost US$ 750 million thus possibly affecting Scheme of Control agreements. By comparison  CAPCO local installed capacity is 6,908 MW and HEC installed capacity is 3,756 MW.  Meanwhile Hong Kong is in dire need of  shipping Emissions Control Area legislation to restrict the burning of  bunker fuel in local PRD coastal waters and the removal of pre Euro and Euro 1 diesel vehicles from our roads.

James Middleton

Chairman Energy Committee

telephone and contact address is listed on our website.

Relevant Hong Kong data


41,725 Terajoules of nuclear power imported (30.6% of CLP’s local supply)

139,420 Terajoules generated at local plants

13,433 Terajoules exported to the Mainland

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the following average emission levels in the production of 1 MWh of electricity
Kilos of Emissions per 1 MWh (converted from lbs as shown on the site)
Coal Oil Natural Gas Nuclear
Carbon Dioxide 1022 760 516 0
Sulfur Dioxide 5.9 5.45 0.045 0
Nitrogen Oxides 2.73 1.82 0.77 0 energy/impacts

  • Installed capacity factsheet * (excludes Daya Bay)

CLP Power Hong Kong Limited (CLP Power), founded

in 1901, supplies electricity to Kowloon and the New

Territories, including Lantau, Cheung Chau and most of

the outlying islands.

CLP Power’s local maximum demand in 2008 was

6 749 MW, while local sales amounted to 30.1 billion kWh.

At the year end, the company had 2.29 million customers.

At present, electricity is generated by three power

stations, namely, Castle Peak (4 108 MW), Black Point

(2 500 MW) and Penny’s Bay (300 MW), with the total

installed capacity being 6 908 MW. All these power

stations are owned by Castle Peak Power Company

Limited (CAPCO), 60% of which is owned by ExxonMobil

Energy Limited and 40% by CLP Power. CLP Power has

contracted to purchase about 70% of the power generated

at the two 984 MW pressurised water reactors at the

Guangdong Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station, some 50

kilometres from Hong Kong, to help meet the long term

demand for electricity in its supply area. It also has the

right to use 50 per cent of the 1 200 MW capacity of Phase

1 of the Guangzhou Pumped Storage Power Station, at


Wholly owned by CLP Power, the transmission

system operates at 400kV and 132kV while distribution is

mainly at 33kV, 11kV and 380V. The supply is 50Hz

alternating current, at 220V single-phase or 380V

three-phase. For bulk customers, supply is available at

132kV, 33kV and 11kV.

An extra high voltage transmission system, at 400kV,

transmits power from the Castle Peak and Black Point

Power Stations to the various load centres. It comprises

503 kilometres of double-circuit overhead line encircling

the New Territories, 52 kilometres of cables and 11 extra

high voltage substations.

By the end of 2008, CLP Power had 214 primary and

12 914 secondary substations in its transmission and

distribution network.

The company’s power system has been

interconnected with the Guangdong power system since

April 1979 and electricity is exported to Guangdong

Province. 80 per cent of the profit is given back to CLP

Power’s local customers

  • The Hongkong Electric Company Limited (HEC),
  • founded in 1889, supplies electricity to Hong Kong Island,
  • Ap Lei Chau and Lamma Island. Electricity is supplied from
  • the Lamma Power Station. At the end of 2008, the total
  • installed capacity of the station was 3 756 MW.
  • The maximum demand in 2008 was 2 589 MW, and
  • sales of electricity for the year amounted to 10.9 billion kWh.
  • At the year end, the company had 0.56 million customers.


Castle Peak Power Company

Limited (CAPCO), 60% of which is owned by ExxonMobil

Energy Limited and 40% by CLP Power

33pc cut in carbon emissions proposed- Government aims high in climate-change fight

South China Morning Post — 11 Sept. 2010

Hong Kong has been given a target of slashing its carbon emissions by up to 33 per cent in a decade.

The target forms part of long-awaited government proposals, released yesterday, that drew swift criticism for being too timid and taking the wrong tack.

Up for public consultation are plans to generate half the city’s electricity from nuclear power, and phase out coal-fired power stations, by 2030.

The target, more stringent than the mainland’s but less aggressive than that required of developed economies by the United Nations, would mean cuts in carbon emissions of between 19 per cent and 33 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. That translates to a drop from the 42 million tonnes emitted in 2008 to between 28 million tonnes and 34 million tonnes.

The latest lofty initiative from the Environment Bureau comes as action is still awaited on proposals for updating the city’s air quality objectives after nearly two years of study, and four months of public consultation that ended 10 months ago.

Introducing the latest plans, Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah (pictured) said it would not have been easy to attain even the national carbon reduction target since Hong Kong’s economy is growing more slowly than the mainland’s.

“But we decided to choose an even more aggressive target as Hong Kong is a developed city and an international financial centre. We should be more forward-looking,” Yau said.

Green groups said the government should have opted for the still more stringent UN standards, and heavily criticised the plan’s reliance on nuclear power.

Greenpeace called it “the most irresponsible and dangerous path” to tackling climate change.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung said Hong Kong, as an international city with a mature economy, had a duty to meet the stricter UN target, which would require a 25 per cent reduction in 1990 levels of carbon emissions, to 26.5 million tonnes a year, by 2020.

But Yau said the target was already ahead of those set by the United States, the European Union and Japan.

The plan released yesterday for a three-month public consultation after a much-delayed climate change study commissioned by the government over two years ago does not detail the costs of implementing it or the possible difficulties involved.

Yau said it was difficult to predict the costs at this stage as investments and related measures had not been not confirmed. “We may not need to pay a high cost. We will benefit from the savings on electricity bill and the business opportunities of low-carbon industries that arise from it,” he said.

The measures, which cover power generation, buildings, transport and waste, include requiring 15 per cent of buses to run on hybrid engines and halving energy use in commercial buildings.

But the change in power generation is the most drastic.

Apart from increasing the proportion generated from natural gas from 23 per cent to 40 per cent, nuclear power would take over from coal as the major energy source.

The bureau said nuclear power was chosen because it emits no greenhouse gas, is more reliable and cheaper.

Nuclear power now imported from the mainland costs about 50 cents per kilowatt, compared to 40 to 60 cents for coal and 70 to 90 cents for natural gas.

Its use could not be increased quickly, however, since new cross-border transmission lines could take eight years to build.

The government could also face difficult negotiations with the city’s two power companies.

Energy Advisory Committee chairman Edmund Leung Kwong-ho said the public should not worry about the safety of nuclear power after seeing the Daya Bay nuclear power station in Guangdong operate safely for 20  years.

Larry Chow Chuen-ho, director of Baptist University’s Hong Kong Energy Studies Centre, said power companies would be very likely to raise electricity prices as they would have to invest in new gas-burning plants.

If no change is made, the Hong Kong Observatory said the average number of very hot days per year – with temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius or above – could triple to 24 by 2090.