A training deal with France is among the first concrete steps Chile has taken to prepare for decisions on introducing nuclear power through the 2020s.

Recent weeks have seen much progress in the South American nation’s plans to prepare itself to seriously consider the use of nuclear energy. On 18 February, Jaime Salas was announced as the head of the Chilean Atomic Energy Commission (Comisión Chilena de Energía Nuclear, CCHEN). Just one week later Salas accompanied Chilean minister of mines and energy Laurence Golborne on an official visit to France and Belgium, taking in the Tihange nuclear power plant.

In Paris they met Eric Besson, France’s minister of industry and energy, and took part in a round-table discussion with both countries’ energy and industrial leaders aimed at exchanging experience and developing partnerships. One result was the creation of a high level group jointly chaired by GDF-Suez CEO Gérard Mestrallet and Guillermo Luksic of the wide-ranging Quiñenco conglomerate.

An agreement on ’institutional cooperation in nuclear energy’ was signed by CCHEN and its French counterpart CEA that will see 17 Chilean ’future nuclear experts’ receive training in the theory and practice of nuclear energy in France from 2012. This kind of human resources development is vital to CCHEN’s mission to ’evaluate and develop a nuclear plan for the country’s future.’

The shape of things to come?

An early outline for a possible Chilean nuclear program was presented last year by the Nuclear Power Committee of the Professional Association of Engineers of Chile. It is thought that four large nuclear power units of about 1100 MWe each could fit into the grid.

With very dry conditions in the north of the country and few large rivers in the central portion, the report proposed that the nuclear sites could be divided between three sections of Chile’s Pacific coast.

One was the Angofasta region, 1400 kilometres north of Santiago, where there is fairly dense population as well as extensive mining activity. Another could be the Coquimbo region, 300 kilometres north of Santiago, where a large power plant could serve the north of the capital’s metropolitan area. The third region proposed was El Liberatador, about 200 kilometres south of Santiago, to serve the city as well as mitigate the possible reduction in hydroelectric generation that could be caused by climate change.

With the start of the first unit’s construction in 2015, the outline plan would see four reactors begin operation by about 2030. The engineers said such a deployment could avoid 15 new coal-fired boilers of 300 MWe each as well as some 238 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. It would also help to mitigate the impact of a forthcoming reduction in natural gas exports from Argentina.

The resulting mix of generation would be 43% hydro, 26% nuclear, 13% other renewables, 10% gas and 8% coal. The environmental result, said the engineers, would be that emissions from the Chilean power system in 2030 could remain at 2009 levels despite growth in annual demand from about 60 TWh to 140 TWh.

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