Nuclear lobbyists in disarray on what to do about the nuclear industry’s crisis
Terminal decline? Fukushima anniversary marks nuclear industry’s deepening crisis, Ecologist, Jim Green / Nuclear Monitor 10th March 2017
“……..Nuclear lobbyists debate possible solutions to the nuclear power crisis
Michael Shellenberger from the Breakthrough Institute argues that a lack of standardisation and scaling partly explains the “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West”. The constant switching of designs deprives the people who build, operate and regulate nuclear plants of the experience they need to become more efficient.
Shellenberger further argues that there is too much focus on machines, too little on human factors:
“Areva, Toshiba-Westinghouse and others claimed their new designs would be safer and thus, at least eventually, cheaper, but there were always strong reasons to doubt such claims. First, what is proven to make nuclear plants safer is experience, not new designs. …
“In fact, new designs risk depriving managers and workers the experience they need to operate plants more safely, just as it deprives construction companies the experience they need to build plants more rapidly.”
Shellenberger has a three-point rescue plan:
1. ‘Consolidate or Die’: “If nuclear is going to survive in the West, it needs a single, large firm – the equivalent of a Boeing or Airbus – to compete against the Koreans, Chinese and Russians.”
2. ‘Standardize or Die’: He draws attention to the “astonishing” heterogeneity of planned reactors in the UK and says the UK “should scrap all existing plans and start from a blank piece of paper”, that all new plants should be of the same design and “the criteria for choosing the design should emphasize experience in construction and operation, since that is the key factor for lowering costs.”
3. ‘Scale or Die’: Nations “must work together to develop a long-term plan for new nuclear plant construction to achieve economies of scale”, and governments “should invest directly or provide low-cost loans.”
Josh Freed and Todd Allen from pro-nuclear lobby group Third Way, and Ted Nordhaus and Jessica Lovering from the Breakthrough Institute, argue that Shellenberger draws the wrong lessons from Toshiba’s recent losses and from nuclear power’s “longer-term struggles” in developed economies.
They argue that “too little innovation, not too much, is the reason that the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies”. They state that:
- The Westinghouse AP1000 represents a fairly straightforward evolution in light-water reactor design, not a radical departure as Shellenberger claims.
- Standardisation is important but it is not a panacea. Standardisation and building multiple reactors on the same site has limited cost escalation, not brought costs down.
- Most of the causes of rising cost and construction delays associated with new nuclear builds in the US are attributable to the 30-year hiatus in nuclear construction, not the novelty of the AP1000 design.
- Reasonable regulatory reform will not dramatically reduce the cost of new light-water reactors, as Shellenberger suggests.
They write this obituary for large light-water reactors: “If there is one central lesson to be learned from the delays and cost overruns that have plagued recent builds in the US and Europe, it is that the era of building large fleets of light-water reactors is over in much of the developed world.
“From a climate and clean energy perspective, it is essential that we keep existing reactors online as long as possible. But slow demand growth in developed world markets makes ten billion dollar, sixty-year investments in future electricity demand a poor bet for utilities, investors, and ratepayers.”
A radical break
The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors conclude that “a radical break from the present light-water regime … will be necessary to revive the nuclear industry”. Exactly what that means, the authors said, would be the subject of a follow-up article.
So readers were left hanging – will nuclear power be saved by failed fast-reactor technology, or failed high-temperature gas-cooled reactors including failed pebble-bed reactors, or by thorium pipe-dreams or fusion pipe-dreams or molten salt reactor pipe-dreams or small modular reactor pipe-dreams? Perhaps we’ve been too quick to write off cold fusion?
The answers came in a follow-up article on February 28. The four authors want a thousand flowers to bloom, a bottom-up R&D-led nuclear recovery as opposed to top-down, state-led innovation.
They don’t just want a new reactor type (or types), they have much greater ambitions for innovation in “nuclear technology, business models, and the underlying structure of the sector” and they note that “a radical break from the light water regime that would enable this sort of innovation is not a small undertaking and will require a major reorganization of the nuclear sector.”
To the extent that the four authors want to tear down the existing nuclear industry and replace it with a new one, they share some common ground with nuclear critics who want to tear down the existing nuclear industry and not replace it with a new one.
Shellenberger also shares some common ground with nuclear critics: he thinks the UK should scrap all existing plans for new reactors and “start from a blank piece of paper“. But nuclear critics think the UK should scrap all existing plans for new reactors and not start from a blank piece of paper……….http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988749/terminal_decline_fukushima_anniversary_marks_nuclear_industrys_deepening_crisis.html
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