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Nuclear power in crisis: we are entering the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning

 Energy Post,  by Jim Green    Nuclear power is in crisis ‒ as even the most strident nuclear enthusiasts acknowledge ‒ and it is likely that a new era is fast emerging, writes Jim Green, editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter. After a growth spurt from the 1960s to the ’90s, then 20 years of stagnation, the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning is upon us. Article courtesy Nuclear Monitor.

Last year was supposed to be a good year for nuclear power ‒ the peak of a mini-renaissance resulting from a large number of reactor construction starts in the three years before the Fukushima disaster. The World Nuclear Association (WNA) anticipated 19 reactor grid connections (start-ups) in 2017 but in fact there were only four start-ups (Chasnupp-4 in Pakistan; Fuqing-4, Yangjiang-4 and Tianwan-3 in China).

The four start-ups were outnumbered by five permanent shut-downs (Kori-1 in South Korea; Oskashamn-1 in Sweden; Gundremmingen-B in Germany; Ohi 1 and 2 in Japan).

The WNA’s estimate for reactor start-ups in 2017 was hopelessly wrong but, for what it’s worth, here are the Association’s projections for start-ups in the coming years:

2018‒19: 30
2020‒21: 12
2022‒23: 9
2024‒25: 2

Thus ‒ notwithstanding the low number of start-ups in 2017 ‒ the mini-renaissance that gathered steam in the three years before the Fukushima disaster probably has two or three years to run. Beyond that, it’s near-impossible to see start-ups outpacing closures.

New nuclear capacity of 3.3 gigawatts (GW) in 2017 was outweighed by lost capacity of 4.6 GW. Over the past 20 years, there has been modest growth (12.6%, 44 GW) in global nuclear power capacity if reactors currently in long-term outage are included. However, including those reactors ‒ in particular idle reactors in Japan, many of which will never restart ‒ in the count of ‘operable’ or ‘operational’ or ‘operating’ reactors is, as former WNA executive Steve Kidd states, “misleading” and “clearly ridiculous”.

There would need to be an average of 10 reactor start-ups (10 GW) per year just to maintain current capacity. The industry will have to run hard just to stand still

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) excludes reactors in long-term outage ‒ defined as reactors that produced zero power in the previous calendar year and in the first half of the current calendar year ‒ from its count of operating reactors. Thirty-six reactors are currently in long-term outage, 31 of them in Japan.

Excluding reactors in long-term outage, the number of reactors has declined by 29 over the past 20 years, while capacity has grown by a negligible 1.4% (5 GW). Over the past decade, the reactor count is down by 34 and capacity is down by 9.5% (19 GW).

The industry faces severe problems, not least the ageing of the global reactor fleet. The average age of the reactor fleet continues to rise, and by mid-2017 stood at 29.3 years; over half have operated for 31 years or more.

The International Energy Agency expects a “wave of retirements of ageing nuclear reactors” and an “unprecedented rate of decommissioning” ‒ almost 200 reactor shut-downs between 2014 and 2040. The International Atomic Energy Agency anticipates 320 GW of retirements by 2050 ‒ in other words, there would need to be an average of 10 reactor start-ups (10 GW) per year just to maintain current capacity. The industry will have to run hard just to stand still.

………Renewables (24.5% of global generation) generate more than twice as much electricity as nuclear power (<10.5%) and the gap is growing rapidly. The International Energy Agency  predicts renewable energy capacity growth of 43% (920 GW) from 2017 to 2022. Overall, the share of renewables in power generation will reach 30% in 2022 according to the IEA. By then, nuclear’s share will be around 10% and renewables will be out-generating nuclear by a factor of three.

A disastrous year for the nuclear industry

Last year was “all in all a disastrous year” for the nuclear power industry according to Energy Post Weekly editor Karel Beckman. Nuclear lobbyists issued any number of warnings about nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis“, a “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West“, “the crisis that the nuclear industry is presently facing in developed countries“, the “ashes of today’s dying industry”, and noting that “the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies“.

Lobbyists engaged each other in heated arguments over possible solutions to nuclear power’s crisis ‒ in a nutshell, some favour industry consolidation while others think innovation is essential, all of them think that taxpayer subsidies need to be massively increased, and none of them are interested in the tedious work of building public support by strengthening nuclear safety and regulatory standards, strengthening the safeguards system, etc.

One indication of the industry’s desperation has been the recent willingness of industry bodies (such as the US Nuclear Energy Institute) and supporters (such as former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz) to openly acknowledge the connections between nuclear power and weapons, and using those connections as an argument for increased taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power and the broader ‘civil’ nuclear fuel cycle. The power/weapons connections are also evident with Saudi Arabia’s plan to introduce nuclear power and the regime’s pursuit of a weapons capability……….

The only nuclear industry that is booming is decommissioning ‒ the World Nuclear Association anticipates US$111 billion worth of decommissioning projects to 2035…………



February 2, 2018 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs

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