The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope


the nuclear industry. It is the option you choose when you have trouble moving on and you embrace absurd self-destruction and the visiting of farce and misery on others.

[ED. I’m not attempting here to reproduce this entire scholarly and well-referenced article, or even to summarise it. I recommend the whole article – but here are extracts, including ones that particularly refer to Australia]



The World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) is an annual update charting what is in effect the demise of the nuclear industry. The WNISR (2022) shows that nuclear power’s global share of commercial gross electricity generation peaked at 17.5% in 1996, but by the end of 2021 had dropped to 9.8%. Reactor construction starts peaked in 1979 at 234, but forty-eight of those were later abandoned. Thus 1979 was also a year of peak-abandonment. The number of operating reactors peaked in 2005 at 440. Net operating capacity peaked in 1990 at 312GW and has held roughly steady at 312-381GW until the present; it is what can be called a stagnant industry.

………………………….The false claim of mastery of technological destiny is a key part of the tragedy of nuclear power. A tragedy is not just an unhappy ending, but a story of an imperfect and flawed hero occasioning his or her own downfall. In many Greek tragedies, that flaw was hubris, and hubris characterized the development of the nuclear industry.

While Dwight D. Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace‘ speech in December 1953 promised to solve the atomic dilemma by turning that power from death to life, that hope was immediately translated into hubristic over-promising. 

…………….The over-confidence of the nuclear industry is illustrated by its failed projections. …………..

The nuclear industry has always tried to distance itself from its parent, the atomic bomb, but in the 1950’s and 60’s the legacy of weapons testing was a litany of environmental, political, and social injustices. British weapons testing in Australia is a case in point. ……………

Nuclear power is also an extractive industry, and uranium mining is a story of environmental degradation, contamination, and health inequalities visited upon vulnerable communities…………………………

The closing of the nuclear fuel cycle is similarly problematic, with waste disposal programs encountering persistent technical and social obstacles. My own volume, Nuclear Waste Management in Canada: Critical Issues, Critical Perspectives, co-edited with Genevieve Fuji-Johnson, shows how public participation initiatives nevertheless retain a scientistic framing of the issue. Only the public’s knowledge was problematized, as either emotively irrational or too diverse to constitute a coherent political demand. …………………….


………………… the GenCost 2022 report by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), in conjunction with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), found renewables vastly cheaper than nuclear even after factoring in integration costs such as storage and transmission.

Dumbfounded by such cost comparisons, those new to the nuclear vs renewables debate wonder how nuclear survives as a financial idea at all. Martin Cohen and Andrew McKillop, in The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy, provide some clues, revealing an array of nuclear industry accounting tricks and a strategy that amounts to a nuclear asset bubble…………………….Independent energy analysts concluded power from Vogtle 3 & 4 will be five times as expensive as Georgia Power having acquired the same amounts of energy and capacity from renewables plus storage.


………………………….  The trend is clear: nuclear is being replaced as a source of electricity. The first replacement was by natural gas and the second by non-hydro renewables. Renewables advocates point to such trends as indicators that nuclear power is not necessary for decarbonization.

Australia, which operates an Open-pool lightwater 20MW research reactor at Lucas Heights in New South Wales, has no commercial nuclear power reactors, and is thus an interesting test-case for the ‘nuclear is necessary’ claim.

South Australia is the model for an all-renewables grid, having already had extended runs (10+ days) in which wind and solar accounted for 100% of local demand. Moreover, AEMO’s Quarterly Energy Dynamics report (for 2022) depicts a north/south divide. Northern States (Queensland and New South Wales) are reliant on unreliable coal plants and suffer price spikes, while the southern States (Victoria and South Australia) saw a surge in renewables penetration into the grid, driving prices down. Renewables directly replace coal and lower prices.

Nuclear power is not deemed necessary for decarbonization in the Australian context. AEMO’s Integrated System Plan of 2022 modelled a step-change scenario, regarding it both most likely and compatible with net-zero emissions, in which renewables generate 98% of national electricity market energy by 2050 (including 10GW gas and 26GW dispatchable storage). Successive GenCost reports by AEMO, up to the latest in 2022, have deemed nuclear power in general too costly compared to renewables.

AEMO also skewers Small Modular Reactors (SMR), which are the modern nuclear industry fantasy. AEMO argues that SMR cost estimates are hopelessly biased and unreliable and that evidence of a positive learning rate (capacity to lower costs and build time when scaling up) is absent……..


The Australian example suggests nuclear power is not a solution to climate concerns, but a potentially costly and burdensome engineering redundancy. ……………………………

The World Nuclear Association (WNA_ presents the nuclear industry as the victim of a renewables-biased investment and electricity market and an over-zealous regulatory environment. Calling for a more level playing field, nuclear power here is ‘victimized nuclear power’.


………………………… The far-right are straight climate deniers, yet fans of nuclear power. In Australia, see Pauline Hanson and Craig Kelly. In Europe, see the AfD (Germany), SvP (Sweden), Nye Borgerlige (Denmark), Fdl (Italy), Vlaams Belang (Belgium) and RN (France).  Lukewarmer ecomodernists agree on anthropogenic warming but minimize the climate problem, criticize environmentalism for being alarmist, and support nuclear power on scientistic grounds Some craft their messages in a way that climate deniers and/or advocates for fossil fuels always (just so happen to) find them acceptable. ……………….


The nuclear renaissance has been offered as a magical and flexible antidote to concerns that we cannot power our way through to decarbonization……..

Chief among the conjuring tricks is a conflation of abundant and minimum power. The World Nuclear Association depicts the future as a big energy world, where electricity demand will rise substantially, engorged by urbanisation and the electrification of end-uses, and outpace total final energy demand. Simultaneously we are told that renewables are intermittent and only nuclear power can supply baseload power (minimum power required to supply average electricity demand). We are told that only baseload (nuclear) gives us reliable power. ‘Reliable’ is made to stand for both abundant and minimum. Unpacking each of those elements is part of demystifying the potential role of nuclear power.

Forecasts of electricity demand vary greatly. Amory Lovins predicts soft energy paths can protect both climate and economy at the same time as curtailing rampant consumption………….

‘Baseload is required for reliable power’ is a myth. Baseload power is more an economic than a technical concept, because baseload power supplies average electricity demand: it is the minimum power a power plant can produce without being switched off. When your car is idling at a traffic light, it is at baseload power. Practical experience and modelling confirm that variable renewables can be balanced by dispatchable (supply on demand) energy sources…………………………………..


………….. Is nuclear power there when you need it, as renaissance rhetoric suggests? France has a fleet of fifty-six reactors supplying 70 per cent of its electricity, but as gas shortages hit Europe in 2022 in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Électricité de France fleet suffered an annus horribilis. Over half of the fleet was shut down for repair, maintenance, and cracking and corrosion issues, resulting in record unplanned outages and nuclear output at a thirty-year low.

 Consider the Japanese nuclear fleet post- Fukushima. Gross electricity generation dropped from 275 TWh in 2011 to about 50 TWh as of July 2022…………..Neither reliable nor resilient, nuclear is often not there when you need it.

Can nuclear be there if we want it? …………………………… In 2019–2021 the mean construction time for reactors connected to the grid was 8.2 years, exceeding ‘expected’ estimates, which are usually quoted in the range of 4–5 years. Moreover, a host of Generation III+ reactor projects, touted as resolving engineering and project management issues that contributed to cost and construction blowouts, have all experienced cost and construction blowouts.

Prime examples are Olkiluoto-3 in Finland (expected 2009 become 2023, costs quadrupled), Flamanville-3 in France (expected 2012, still building, and costs increased fivefold), and Vogtle 3 & 4 in the USA (expected 2016-17, still building, and costs increased fivefold). The nuclear power industry has a negative, almost forgetting by doing, learning curve, rather than a positive learning curve.  Even the IAEA admitted investors were being scared off nuclear power by repeated failure to live up to promises…………….

Can nuclear power change? Advocates often pin their hopes on Small Modular Reactors (SMR), defined as sub-300MWe, designed for either serial construction or as sub-15MWe reactors for remote uses. Yet SMR’s are framed by the same kinds of utopian rhetorical visions we saw in the industry development stage, such as SMR’s as risk-free (extreme reliability and perfect safety), vehicles for indigenous autonomy (remote, portable or infrastructure-lite), and environmental saviours (waste and carbon free). 

Meanwhile material reality reveals the would-be emperor already has excessively expensive clothes. As documented by independent energy analysts at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the NuScale SMR-plant proposal offered to Utah in the USA has already seen a reduction in units and a 53% jump in costs that render it even less cost-competitive with renewables than its originally uncompetitive offer.

SMRs do more than inherit farcical versions of the nuclear industry’s past over-promising. SMR proponents also push the technology in a way that would be a hindrance to decarbonisation……………..

………………… We should be suspicious about breezy nuclear industry claims that nuclear power and renewables can co-exist. In fact, research on resource allocation between nuclear and renewables finds evidence for the ‘crowding-out hypothesis’: that countries with greater attachment to nuclear will tend to have lesser attachment to renewables and vice versa). Any talk of SMRs should be interrogated for signs of material commitments, such as opposing grid upgrades, that would in fact mitigate against renewables, thus casting doubt on claims of ‘all of the above’ and on lip service paid to renewables as parts of decarbonisation pathways.


Some will respond to this analysis by suggesting my anti-nuclear stance is anti-technology or anti-science………..

An apt metaphor for nuclear power might thus be that of the afterlife: not the religious one – rather the Netflix series After Life, a dark comedy written and produced by Ricky Gervais. The central character Tony, played by Gervais, has lost his wife and, in his grief, decides he is just going to punish himself and the world by being a complete jerk. That is the nuclear industry. It is the option you choose when you have trouble moving on and you embrace absurd self-destruction and the visiting of farce and misery on others.


April 20, 2023 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA, culture and arts

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