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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

The nuclear industry in financial meltdown

This is no short-term trend.  While gas and renewables get cheaper, the price of nuclear power only rises. 

Most environmentalists are ardent opponents of the nuclear industry. For many the prime concern is its poor safety record. Others recoil at the inescapable technological link to nuclear weapons production and at nuclear’s many unresolved problems

Industry Meltdown: Is the Era of Nuclear Power Coming to an End?, Yale Environment 360  From Europe to Japan to the U.S., nuclear power is in retreat, as plants are being shuttered, governments move toward renewables, and key companies face financial troubles. Even some of the industry’s biggest boosters believe nuclear is on the way out.   Is the nuclear power industry in its death throes?  Even some nuclear enthusiasts believe so. With the exception of China, most nations are moving away from nuclear — existing power plants across the United States are being shut early; new reactor designs are falling foul of regulators, and public support remains in free fall. Now come the bankruptcies.

In an astonishing hammer blow to a global industry in late March, Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse — the original developer of the workhorse of the global nuclear industry, the pressurized-water reactor (PWR), and for many decades the world’s largest provider of nuclear technology — filed for bankruptcy after hitting big problems with its latest reactor design, the AP1000.

Largely as a result, its parent company, the Japanese nuclear engineering giant Toshiba, is also in dire financial straits and admits there is “substantial doubt” about its ability to continue as a going concern.

Meanwhile, France’s state-owned Électricité de France (EDF), Europe’s biggest builder and operator of nuclear power plants, is deep in debt thanks to its own technical missteps and could become a victim of the economic and energy policies of incoming President Emmanuel Macron.

Those three companies account for more than half of all nuclear power generation worldwide. Their “looming insolvency … has set off a chain reaction of events that threatens the existence of nuclear power in the West,” says Michael Shellenberger, president of the pro-nuclear NGO, Environmental Progress.

“The nuclear industry as we have known it is coming to an end,” says Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute, a California eco-modernist think tank that advocates for nuclear power.

Can this be true?

The U.S. remains the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, with about 100 commercial reactors in operation. New construction virtually shut down after the near-meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979. Recently, a stuttering renaissance has been under way.  Westinghouse has been building four new reactors at Waynesboro, Georgia, and Jenkinsville, South Carolina.

But those reactors have hit regulatory holdups and technical problems that have pushed cost overruns to an estimated $13 billion. And with Westinghouse in financial meltdown, it is now far from clear that they ever will be finished.

Meanwhile across the country, utilities are shutting existing plants from California to Wisconsin to Vermont, often long before the end of their design life, because they cannot compete with cheap fracked gas or, increasingly, with wind and solar power. Fourteen power reactors have shut since 2012.

This is no short-term trend.  While gas and renewables get cheaper, the price of nuclear power only rises. This is in large part to meet safety concerns linked to past reactor disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima and to post-9/11 security worries, and also a result of utilities factoring in the costs of decommissioning their aging reactors.  ……..

Shellenberger suggests that an Asian takeover might be a good thing for the West. A beaten and bankrupt industry built on high-cost, bespoke construction could be ripe for annexation by companies that have learned to mass-produce reactors based on old Westinghouse PWR designs and that have replaced nuclear scientists with engineers and experimentation with replication. “What makes nuclear plants safer and cheaper to build and operate is experience, not new designs,” Shellenberger says……..

Most environmentalists are nonetheless ardent opponents of the nuclear industry. For many the prime concern is its poor safety record. Others recoil at the inescapable technological link to nuclear weapons production and at nuclear’s many unresolved problems with waste disposal and decommissioning; they also see nuclear as a rival for investment in renewables, their preferred choice for a low-carbon future. They would happily consign nuclear power to the dustbin of history……..

the industry is in crisis. It looks ever more like a 20th- century industrial dinosaur, unloved by investors, the public, and policymakers alike. The crisis could prove terminal. http://e360.yale.edu/features/industry-meltdown-is-era-of-nuclear-power-coming-to-an-end

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May 17, 2017 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs

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