World Nuclear Association Blog

Binika Shah reflects on her new role at WNA

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Binika Shah joined the World Nuclear Association in February 2014 as a Senior Project Manager. She was recently interviewed by Radiation Regulator journal. Below is a section of the interview she gave to the journal.

Tell us about your career so far.

Binika ShahHaving been sponsored by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) during University, I graduated and was afforded a placement in their central environmental policy unit. Although unrelated to my academic qualification (having studied Mathematics and Physics at undergraduate level), I had always been passionate about environmental issues and took naturally to the challenge.

I followed this placement with a gap to go trotting around the world, and returned to land a contract with the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs in supporting the establishing of an agency (then known as the "Government Decontamination Service"). At the agency, I managed several Government-funded science and technology projects, looking to enhance the UK's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capabilities, as well as managing other technical information. This contract was followed by a post as an environmental consultant at an engineering consultancy firm called Atkins. The main focus of my work ended up being around legislation and policy development relating to radioactive substance management, with key projects being the revision of UK radioactive substance regulation, developing a scheme to demonstrate competence to the regulator in managing radioactive waste in the UK, and being the technical preparer for the 3rd Periodic Evaluation of Progress towards the Objective of the Radioactive Substances Strategy (in the North-East Atlantic Ocean). After several years at Atkins, I moved to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) in February 2014 as a Senior Project Manager.

What is the WNA and how does your role fit into their work?

WNA is a global organisation that promotes nuclear energy and supports the many companies that comprise the nuclear industry through the entirety of the fuel cycle (i.e. from uranium mining to decommissioning and de-licensing), together with its supply chain and associated industries. It provides a forum for sharing knowledge and insight into evolving industry developments, sharing international best practice to strengthen the nuclear industry's capabilities, and speaking authoritatively in relevant key international forums, such as the IAEA, OECD/NEA, ICRP, etc. that affect the policy and public environment in which the industry operates.

Many people may be familiar with the WNA website which provides lots of really useful information on nuclear energy - it is worth taking a look if you are unacquainted with it. Also, World Nuclear News has become the leading online news service on developments related to nuclear power, and its readership isn't limited to the nuclear industry. One final thing to mention is the World Nuclear University which provides training and education on key nuclear industry-related topics to the next generation of nuclear industry leaders

My primary role within WNA will be to support the radiological protection and the waste management & decommissioning working groups. These are essentially forums through which the industry shares leading good practice, conducts analysis, prepares position statements, and develops and implements strategies to advance collective interest in the safe and expanding worldwide use of nuclear power. The working groups are made up of representatives mainly from member organisations, and we often invite notable interested parties and relevant other organisations. I will also be attending international forums, such as relevant IAEA safety standards committees, to understand key developments, and to provide a voice for the industry in these areas.

What do you see as the greatest challenges ahead?

I would just like to focus on one area. The question in my mind is always around the waste, particularly when thinking about the sustainability of nuclear power. There are solutions out there, but the focus for industry often tends to be on the front-end as well as safety. In my opinion, the back-end of the fuel cycle is critical to the success  of a project. Many governments around the world have taken this on board, and are building into the regulatory systems the need to place due consideration on waste management and decommissioning during the early planning stages, but this is still not the case everywhere. Applying the waste hierarchy throughout the fuel cycle is crucial and the industry needs to take this on board.

How will you assess your success?

I'm not sure that I can make this into something that is "SMART" (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-framed), despite being titled a "project manager". I'd like to think that I will be supporting effective working groups that are thriving and doing some really good work to influence the industry and leading effective discussions with the wider international forum. For example, for radiological protection, this may be a system of radiological protection that can be applied by the industry in a logical manner and can be communicated to an external audience including public, decision-makers and media. For waste management and decommissioning, an example could be waste minimisation through effective and maximal recycling. 

How do you see the role of regulators?

The role of the regulator is critical to ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants across the world, and this should be done in an independent and transparent manner to ensure the credibility with the public, first and foremost. But this should not be done in such a way as to be detrimental to the industry; regulators need to work with the industry to ensure that standards are applied in a fair manner, and giving due consideration to social, economic and environmental impacts.

Does the UK’s Contract for Difference provide a level-playing field between nuclear and renewables?

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Greg Kaser
Senior Project Manager

 

Greg Kaser WNAThe European Commission is investigating whether the UK Government's proposals to support the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant is legitimate under European Union competition rules. Plenty of people think that EDF, the company standing behind the nuclear station, will be receiving a pretty generous subsidy to the detriment of alternatives. The Guardian newspaper (3 March 2014) quoted the chair of the UK and Ireland association of Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Councillor Mark Hackett, as saying that the project is "the most expensive" power plant in history and "could choke off the nascent renewable energy revolution in the UK [and] turning off investors in offshore wind and solar at a time when such industries are rapidly taking off elsewhere in Europe". Another critic, Peter Atherton of Liberium Capital, a London-based broker and corporate finance advisor, asserted in The Spectator magazine (22 February 2014) that the government "has agreed to buy electricity at twice the current market price … which looks like financial insanity".

This is also one of the possible concerns that the European Commission is examining. In a letter to the UK Government on 18 December 2013 the Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia indicated that it was not clear whether the Hinkley Point C project would "crowd out" other low-carbon technologies, such as biomass, hinder the import of electricity from the rest of Europe, and reduce the incentive to improve energy efficiency. 

The Commission's careful language, however, indicates that not all is what it appears. Firstly there is nothing in the UK Electricity Market Reform package that disadvantages renewable energy sources. Renewables are offered the same help as nuclear power: they are eligible for an infrastructure investment guarantee from the government and a Contract for Difference arrangement to help them finance their projects, whether it is the biomass conversion of the Drax coal-fired thermal power plant or for an off-shore wind turbine. The government published indicative 'strike prices' for renewable technologies in the range of £95 to £305 per megawatt hour in December 2013: <link>. It has also agreed a strike price for Hinkley Point C of £92.50/MWh, below that available to any of the low-carbon alternatives.  

Secondly, many people fail to appreciate that the strike price in a Contract for Difference (CfD) is not a guaranteed price for the electricity. A CfD is a bet between the generator (the punter) and its counterparty (a special government-sponsored enterprise) on the outcome of the competition to sell into the electricity market. If the outcome is a power price (the 'reference price') higher than the bet (the 'strike price') then the generator compensates the counterparty; if the power price turns out to be lower than the 'strike price', then the counterparty compensates the generator. This bet is linked to the sale of the electricity by the power generator. If Hinkley Point C fails to sell its power to the grid then it receives no revenue and no compensation (or penalty) from the CfD. Like any other generating plant Hinkley Point C will have to compete in an open market to sell its power. On a windy day it might not be able to beat the price offered by a wind turbine array in the Bristol Channel. In fact, and thirdly, the wind array has an additional advantage since renewable energy sources have priority access to the grid. If anything, the playing field is stacked against nuclear power in favour of renewable energy sources and there is no reason to suppose that competition between generators within the UK or abroad will be distorted as a result of the proposed strike price.

De-carbonizing the electricity system is not a cheap option but without a slice of nuclear power for the around-the-clock base-load generation the transition will be more expensive than it needs to be. If the government did not support alternatives to fossil fuels then greenhouse gas emissions would continue to grow, as the German electricity market demonstrates. The UK has a deregulated and unbundled energy market and the contract for difference is a way of persuading generating companies to invest in low-carbon technologies which otherwise would not make business sense while preserving competition between electricity suppliers.