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The decline of nuclear power, as renewables rise

Likening nuclear power to that of a living organism, however, Mycle Schneider, the lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, told World Finance the industry was like a “dying species” due to the obvious reduction in new nuclear project launches in recent years.

This is seen clearly in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) annual World Energy Investment report, updated in July, which found that nuclear investment is falling fast.

Nuclear power continues its decline as renewable alternatives steam ahead, World Finance,  Author: Courtney Goldsmith, October 15, 2018

Once thought of as the primary answer to the globe’s renewable energy requirements, nuclear energy is now viewed unfavourably in comparison to solar and wind alternatives.

Last year, the largest nuclear power builder in history went bankrupt. Japanese conglomerate Toshiba’s prolific subsidiary Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy after revealing billions of dollars of cost overruns on its US construction projects. At the start of 2018, Toshiba agreed to sell the business for $4.6bn

The high-profile sale followed the French Government’s €5.3bn ($6.2bn) bailout of state-owned nuclear company Areva, which went technically bankrupt after a cumulative six-year
loss of $12.3bn.

These distress signals were noted in the 2017 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, which claimed the debate on nuclear power is over. “Nuclear power has been eclipsed by the sun and the wind,” the report’s forward read. “These renewable, free-fuel sources are no longer a dream or a projection – they are a reality [and] are replacing nuclear as the preferred choice for new power plants worldwide.”

But even while confidence in the industry erodes, strident nuclear advocates still insist the technology is a fundamental ingredient in the global energy mix, providing vital zero-emission, base-load power.

Powering down
The nuclear industry has been shaped in many ways by its biggest disasters: the catastrophic Chernobyl tragedy in Ukraine is considered to be the worst nuclear accident in history, in terms of both cost and casualties. In 1986, four nuclear reactors at the power station exploded, spewing radioactive material into the atmosphere. Decades later, there is still no accurate measure of how many people have indirectly died from the exposure.

Then, in 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a 46-foot tsunami that hit the Fukushima nuclear plant. The event led to the leakage of radioactive materials, and the plant was shut down. Six years later, the total official cost estimate for the catastrophe has reached $200bn, though it could rise to as much as $630bn according to independent estimates.

These incidents have cast a shadow over the sector. In the years since, new nuclear designs have aimed to improve safety features while maintaining low costs. But despite this, the frequency with which cost overruns and delays occur means nuclear projects are still often deemed too risky for private investors.

Construction delays are a big factor behind rising costs. According to the 2017 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 37 of the 53 reactors under construction in mid-2017 were behind schedule. Eight of those projects have been in progress for a decade or more, and three of those have been under construction for more than 30 years.

As recently as July, Électricité de France’s (EDF’s) flagship nuclear project in Flamanville, which is already seven years behind schedule, was set back by another year over piping weld issues. The ‘quality deviations’ found in 33 welds at the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) would also cause costs to swell by a further €400m ($465m). The cost of the project now sits at a grand total of €10.9bn ($12.7bn), more than three times the original budget.

Flamanville is one of three new EPRs currently being built in Western Europe. The region’s first new nuclear power station in 15 years, Finland’s Olkiluoto 3, was supposed to be completed in 2009. After numerous delays, it is now expected to be finished in May 2019. Meanwhile, the 3.2GW Hinkley Point C reactor in Somerset is expected to become the UK’s first new nuclear power plant in more than 20 years. It is already expected to be around £1.5bn ($2bn) over budget and more than a year behind schedule.

Yves Desbazeille, Director General of FORATOM, the trade organisation for Europe’s nuclear power producers, told World Finance that delays in major construction projects “are relatively common and difficult to predict”, whether in the nuclear sector or elsewhere.

“Nevertheless, we believe that lessons learned from the projects which are currently being developed in Europe will allow us to avoid these risks in the future,” Desbazeille added.

Likening nuclear power to that of a living organism, however, Mycle Schneider, the lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, told World Finance the industry was like a “dying species” due to the obvious reduction in new nuclear project launches in recent years.

This is seen clearly in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) annual World Energy Investment report, updated in July, which found that nuclear investment is falling fast. The amount of money funnelled into nuclear power nearly halved in 2017, dropping by 45 percent as fewer new plants came online. New nuclear capacity was hit particularly hard, falling by around 70 percent to the lowest in five years as a growing slice of investment was put towards upgrades for existing reactors. Moreover, the growing popularity of renewable energy must be considered, according to Schneider: “To nuclear power, it’s like an invading species to the living organism.”

Renewables charge ahead 
The economics of renewable power generation has transformed in the past five years, with costs plummeting to record lows due to the technology’s exceptional ‘learning rate’. A learning rate is the drop in the initial cost of construction as technology improves over time. The quick decline in the cost of renewables took the industry by “total surprise”, Schneider said.

For power generated by a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, that means real prices have plunged by 90 percent between 2009 and 2016. The real price of wind power, meanwhile, fell by 50 percent.

At the same time, nuclear power has presented a negative learning rate: despite technological advances and years of study, the cost of nuclear power tends to increase due to the high price of taking care of ageing reactors.

Politicians can’t pretend new nuclear projects are a viable economic option, Schneider said: “There is no market anymore in the world where new-build [nuclear reactors are] economic under market economy terms.

Renewable energy is not only threatening new nuclear projects; even existing nuclear power, which costs an average of $35.50 per MWh, was higher than recent renewable energy auctions in a number of countries, where prices have fallen to all-time lows of below $30 per MWh.

But Desbazeille said the issue of comparing costs was more complex. Citing a recent report by the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency titled The Full Costs of Electricity Provision, he said the price of electricity in today’s market does not include all the costs that must be taken into account when comparing different energy sources, such as grid-level costs, land-use charges, security of energy and electricity supply, or employment generated in the electricity sector.

Whatever the cost comparison, it appears adding solar and wind power to the grid is more common at the moment. In 2016, global nuclear capacity increased by just 9GW, while solar capacity jumped by 75GW and wind notched a 55GW increase.

Comparing the data since 2000 presents an even starker image. In the 16 years measured by the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, countries around the world added 451GW of wind energy and 301GW of solar energy to power grids, dwarfing an increase of just 36GW for nuclear.

The emissions race
Although the 126 nuclear reactors operating in 14 EU member states generate more than a quarter of all electricity in the EU, and nuclear sources still accounted for close to 30 percent of all electricity production in the eurozone as recently as 2015 (see Fig 1), many governments are beginning to turn their backs on nuclear power.

In March, Belgium agreed to shut down the country’s seven nuclear reactors by 2025, and Germany has been working since 2011 to phase out its nuclear reactors by 2022. In a referendum in 2017, Switzerland also voted to gradually eliminate its nuclear reactors.

The change is even occurring in France, which is the second-biggest user of nuclear power after the US. President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign in 2017 included a promise to cut nuclear power generation from more than 70 percent of the country’s energy mix to 50 percent………

https://www.worldfinance.com/markets/nuclear-power-continues-its-decline-as-renewable-alternatives-steam-ahead

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October 15, 2018 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs

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