Since about 2001 the term nuclear renaissance has been used to refer to a possible nuclear power industry revival, driven by rising fossil fuel prices and new concerns about meeting greenhouse gas emission limits. However, the World Nuclear Association has reported that nuclear electricity generation in 2012 was at its lowest level since 1999.
In March 2011 the nuclear emergencies at Japan's Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and shutdowns at other nuclear facilities raised questions among some commentators over the future of the renaissance. Platts has reported that "the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plants has prompted leading energy-consuming countries to review the safety of their existing reactors and cast doubt on the speed and scale of planned expansions around the world". In 2011 Siemens exited the nuclear power sector following the Fukushima disaster and subsequent changes to German energy policy, and supported the German government's planned energy transition to renewable energy technologies. China, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, United Kingdom, Italy and the Philippines have reviewed their nuclear power programs. Indonesia and Vietnam still plan to build nuclear power plants. Countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway remain opposed to nuclear power. Following the Fukushima I nuclear accidents, the International Energy Agency halved its estimate of additional nuclear generating capacity built by 2035.
The World Nuclear Association has reported that “nuclear power generation suffered its biggest ever one-year fall through 2012 as the bulk of the Japanese fleet remained offline for a full calendar year”. Data from the International Atomic Energy Agency showed that nuclear power plants globally produced 2346 TWh of electricity in 2012 – seven per cent less than in 2011. The figures illustrate the effects of a full year of 48 Japanese power reactors producing no power during the year. The permanent closure of eight reactor units in Germany was also a factor. Problems at Crystal River, Fort Calhoun and the two San Onofre units in the USA meant they produced no power for the full year, while in Belgium Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were out of action for six months. Compared to 2010, the nuclear industry produced 11% less electricity in 2012.
Various barriers to a nuclear renaissance have been suggested. These include: unfavourable economics compared to other sources of energy, slowness in addressing climate change, industrial bottlenecks and personnel shortages in the nuclear sector, and the contentious issue of what to do with nuclear waste or spent nuclear fuel. There are also concerns about more nuclear accidents, security, and nuclear weapons proliferation.
New reactors under construction in Finland and France, which were meant to lead a nuclear renaissance, have been delayed and are running over-budget. China has 32 new reactors under construction, and there are also a considerable number of new reactors being built in South Korea, India, and Russia. At the same time, at least 100 older and smaller reactors will "most probably be closed over the next 10-15 years". So the expanding nuclear programs in Asia are balanced by retirements of aging plants and nuclear reactor phase-outs.
In the 2009 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency stated that:
A nuclear renaissance is possible but cannot occur overnight. Nuclear projects face significant hurdles, including extended construction periods and related risks, long licensing processes and manpower shortages, plus long‐standing issues related to waste disposal, proliferation and local opposition. The financing of new nuclear power plants, especially in liberalized markets, has always been difficult and the financial crisis seems almost certain to have made it even more so. The huge capital requirements, combined with risks of cost overruns and regulatory uncertainties, make investors and lenders very cautious, even when demand growth is robust.
As of July 2013, "a total of 437 nuclear reactors were operating in 30 countries, seven fewer than the historical maximum of 444 in 2002. Since 2002, utilities have started up 28 units and disconnected 36 including six units at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. The current world reactor fleet has a total nominal capacity of about 370 gigawatts (or thousand megawatts). Despite seven fewer units operating in 2013 than in 2002, the capacity is still about 7 gigawatts higher". The numbers of new operative reactors, final shutdowns and new initiated constructions according to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in recent years are as follows:
Annual generation of nuclear power has been on a slight downward trend since 2007, decreasing 1.8% in 2009 to 2558 TWh with nuclear power meeting 13-14% of the world's electricity demand. A major factor in the decrease has been the prolonged repair of seven large reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Japan following the Niigata-Chuetsu-Oki earthquake.
According to an article in The Times, the world is expected to build 180 nuclear power plants over the next decade, up from only 39 since 1999. Sixty-three reactors with a total capacity of 65 GW are by December 2010 under construction, but several carry over from earlier eras; some are partially completed reactors on which work has resumed (e.g., in Argentina); some are small and experimental (e.g., Russian floating reactors); and some have been on the IAEA’s “under construction” list for years (e.g., in India and Russia). Reactor projects in Eastern Europe are essentially replacing old Soviet reactors shut down due to safety concerns. Most of the current activity ― 30 reactors ― is taking place in four countries: China, India, Russia and South Korea. Iran is the only country which is currently building its first power reactor, but construction began decades ago.
A study by UBS, reported on April 12, 2011, predicts that around 30 nuclear plants may be closed world-wide, with those located in seismic zones or close to national boundaries being the most likely to shut. The analysts believe that 'even pro-nuclear countries such as France will be forced to close at least two reactors to demonstrate political action and restore the public acceptability of nuclear power', noting that the events at Fukushima 'cast doubt on the idea that even an advanced economy can master nuclear safety'. In September 2011, German engineering giant Siemens announced it will withdraw entirely from the nuclear industry, as a response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
The 2011 World Energy Outlook report by the International Energy Agency stated that having "second thoughts on nuclear would have far-reaching consequences" and that a substantial shift away from nuclear power would boost demand for fossil fuels, putting additional upward pressure on the price of energy, raising additional concerns about energy security, and making it more difficult and expensive to combat climate change. The reports suggests that the consequences would be most severe for nations with limited local energy resources and which have been planning to rely heavily on nuclear power for future energy security, and that it would make it substantially more challenging for developing economies to satisfy their rapidly increasing demand for electricity.
John Rowe, chair of Exelon (the largest nuclear power producer in the US), has said that the nuclear renaissance is "dead". He says that solar, wind and cheap natural gas have significantly reduced the prospects of coal and nuclear power plants around the world. Amory Lovins says that the sharp and steady cost reductions in solar power has been a "stunning market success".
In 2013 the analysts at the investment research firm Morningstar, Inc. concluded that nuclear power was not a viable source of new power in the West. On nuclear renaissance they wrote:
The economies of scale experienced in France during its initial build-out and the related strength of supply chain and labor pool were imagined by the dreamers who have coined the term ‘nuclear renaissance’ for the rest of the world. But outside of China and possibly South Korea this concept seems a fantasy, as should become clearer examining even theoretical projections for new nuclear build today.
Nuclear power plants are large construction projects with very high up-front costs. The cost of capital is also steep due to the risk of construction delays and obstructing legal action. The large capital cost of nuclear power has been a key barrier to the construction of new reactors around the world, and the economics have recently worsened, as a result of the global financial crisis. As the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency points out, "investors tend to favor less capital intensive and more flexible technologies". This has led to a large increase in the use of natural gas for base-load power production, often using more sophisticated combined cycle plants.
Accidents and safety
Following an earthquake, tsunami, and failure of cooling systems at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and issues concerning other nuclear facilities in Japan on March 11, 2011, a nuclear emergency was declared. This was the first time a nuclear emergency had been declared in Japan, and 140,000 residents within 20 km of the plant were evacuated. Explosions and a fire have resulted in dangerous levels of radiation, sparking a stock market collapse and panic-buying in supermarkets. Other "alarming incidents" continue to occur even in a well regulated industry like that of the U.S.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been heightened concern that nuclear power plants may be targeted by terrorists or criminals, and that nuclear materials may be purloined for use in nuclear or radiological weapons.
Several studies and energy analysts have suggested that nuclear power is the safest of all the major forms of power production, responsible for fewer deaths per unit of energy produced than any other major energy generating technology.
A nuclear power controversy has surrounded the deployment and use of nuclear fission reactors to generate electricity from nuclear fuel for civilian purposes. The controversy peaked during the 1970s and 1980s, when it "reached an intensity unprecedented in the history of technology controversies", in some countries.
In recent years there have been reports of a revival of the Anti-nuclear movement in Germany and protests in France during 2004 and 2007. In the United States, there have been protests about, and criticism of, several new nuclear reactor proposals and some objections to license renewals for existing nuclear plants.
In 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency presented the results of a series of public opinion surveys in the Global Public Opinion on Nuclear Issues report. Majorities of respondents in 14 of the 18 countries surveyed believe that the risk of terrorist acts involving radioactive materials at nuclear facilities is high, because of insufficient protection. While majorities of citizens generally support the continued use of existing nuclear power reactors, most people do not favour the building of new nuclear plants, and 25% of respondents feel that all nuclear power plants should be closed down. Stressing the climate change benefits of nuclear energy positively influences 10% of people to be more supportive of expanding the role of nuclear power in the world, but there is still a general reluctance to support the building of more nuclear power plants. After the Fukushima Disaster, Civil Society Institute (CSI) found out that 58 percent of the respondents indicated less support of using nuclear power in the United States. Two-thirds of the respondents said they would protest the construction of a nuclear reactor within 50 miles of their homes.
There is little support across the world for building new nuclear reactors, a 2011 poll for the BBC indicates. The global research agency GlobeScan, commissioned by BBC News, polled 23,231 people in 23 countries from July to September 2011, several months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In countries with existing nuclear programmes, people are significantly more opposed than they were in 2005, with only the UK and US bucking the trend. Most believe that boosting energy efficiency and renewable energy can meet their needs.
By region and country
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, offered the nuclear power industry many financial incentives and economic subsidies that, according to economist John Quiggin, the "developers of wind and solar power could only dream of". The Act provides substantial loan guarantees, cost-overrun support of up to $2 billion total for multiple new nuclear power plants, and the extension of the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act through to 2025. This extensive policy support was widely seen as a forerunner to a "nuclear renaissance" in the United States, with dozens of new plants being announced. However, many license applications filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for proposed new reactors were suspended or cancelled.
Between 2007 and 2009, 13 companies applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for construction and operating licenses to build 25 new nuclear power reactors in the U.S. But the case for widespread nuclear plant construction was eroded due to abundant natural gas supplies, slow electricity demand growth in a weak U.S. economy, lack of financing, and uncertainty following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In August 2011, the head of America's largest nuclear utility said that this was not the time to build new nuclear plants, not because of political opposition or the threat of cost overruns, but because of the low price of natural gas. John Rowe, head of Exelon (the largest nuclear power producer in the US), said “Shale [gas] is good for the country, bad for new nuclear development". Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, John Rowe said that the nuclear renaissance was dead. Amory Lovins added that "market forces had killed it years earlier".
As of 2012, "nuclear industry officials say they expect just five new reactors to enter service by 2020 -- Southern's two Vogtle reactors, two at Summer in South Carolina and one at Watts Bar in Tennessee". As of 2014, public opinion was nearly evenly split on building new reactors. The Rasumussen Report found 39 percent in favor and 37 percent opposed to building new nuclear power plants.
The Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy policy continues to include nuclear power. In February 2014, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz went to Georgia to announce $6.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear power reactors at the Vogle plant at Waynesboro, Georgia, which he said would reduce carbon emissions by 10 million tons per year.
In 2013, four aging, uncompetitive, reactors were permanently closed: San Onofre 2 and 3 in California, Crystal River 3 in Florida, and Kewaunee in Wisconsin. The state of Vermont is trying to close Vermont Yankee, in Vernon. New York State is seeking to close Indian Point Energy Center, in Buchanan, 30 miles from New York City.
The first nuclear energy plant constructed after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident will be commissioned in 2017 at Waynesboro in the State of Georgia.The two reactors are called AP1000 and are to be manufactured by Westinghouse. AP1000 has a passive design under which a large reservoir of water sits atop the reactor. If the reactor has to be shut down in the event of an emergency, and alternative power sources do not kick off to pump water into the core as happened at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the water will flow by gravity.
Various scientists and engineers have criticized the AP1000 design. In April 2010, Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear engineer commissioned by several anti-nuclear groups, released a report which explored a hazard associated with the possible rusting through of the containment structure steel liner. In the AP1000 design, the liner and the concrete are separated, and if the steel rusts through, "there is no backup containment behind it" according to Gundersen. Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, has challenged specific cost-saving design choices made for both the AP1000 and ESBWR, another new design. Lyman is concerned about the strength of the steel containment vessel and the concrete shield building around the AP1000. Potentially the most damaging critique of the AP1000 comes from John Ma, a senior structural engineer at the NRC. Ma says that some parts of the steel skin of the reactor's shield building are so brittle that the "impact energy" from a plane strike or storm driven projectile could shatter the wall. Westinghouse has responded to some of these concerns by preparing a modified design.
As of 2008, the greatest growth in nuclear generation was expected to be in China, Japan, South Korea and India.
As of early 2013 China had 17 nuclear reactors operating and 32 under construction, with more planned. "China is rapidly becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle." However, according to a government research unit, China must not build "too many nuclear power reactors too quickly", in order to avoid a shortfall of fuel, equipment and qualified plant workers.
Following the Fukushima disaster, many are questioning the mass roll-out of new plants in India, including the World Bank, the Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, and the former head of the country's nuclear regulatory body, A. Gopalakrishnan. The massive Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project is the focus of concern - "931 hectares of farmland will be needed to build the reactors, land that is now home to 10,000 people, their mango orchards, cashew trees and rice fields". Fishermen in the region say their livelihoods will be wiped out.
Austria, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Poland and Ireland have no active nuclear plants and none under construction. New reactors under construction in Finland (see Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant) and France, which were meant to lead a nuclear renaissance, have been delayed and are running over-budget.
On 18 October 2010 the British government announced eight locations it considered suitable for future nuclear power stations. This has resulted in public opposition and protests at some of the sites. In March 2012, two of the big six power companies announced they would be pulling out of developing new nuclear power plants. The decision by RWE npower and E.ON follows uncertainty over nuclear energy following the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year. The companies will not proceed with their Horizon project, which was to develop nuclear reactors at Wylfa in North Wales and at Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire. Their decision follows a similar announcement by Scottish and Southern Electricity last year. Analysts said the decision meant the future of UK nuclear power could now be in doubt.
The 2011 Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster has led some European energy officials to "think twice about nuclear expansion". Switzerland has abandoned plans to replace its old nuclear reactors and will take the last one offline in 2034. Anti-nuclear opposition intensified in Germany. In the following months the government decided to shut down eight reactors immediately (6 August 2011) and to have the other nine off the grid by the end of 2022. Renewable energy in Germany is believed to be able to compensate for much of the loss. In September 2011 Siemens, which had been responsible for constructing all 17 of Germany's existing nuclear power plants, announced that it would exit the nuclear sector following the Fukushima disaster and the subsequent changes to German energy policy. Chief executive Peter Loescher has supported the German government's planned energy transition to renewable energy technologies, calling it a "project of the century" and saying Berlin's target of reaching 35% renewable energy sources by 2020 was feasible.
On 21 October 2013, EDF Energy announced that an agreement had been reached regarding new nuclear plants to be built on the site of Hinkley Point C. EDF Group and the UK Government agreed on the key commercial terms of the investment contract. The final investment decision is still conditional on completion of the remaining key steps, including the agreement of the EU Commission.
In February 2014, Amory Lovins commented that:
Britain's plan for a fleet of new nuclear power stations is … unbelievable ... It is economically daft. The guaranteed price [being offered to French state company EDF] is over seven times the unsubsidised price of new wind in the US, four or five times the unsubsidised price of new solar power in the US. Nuclear prices only go up. Renewable energy prices come down. There is absolutely no business case for nuclear. The British policy has nothing to do with economic or any other rational base for decision making.
Views and opinions
In June 2009, Mark Cooper from the Vermont Law School said: "The highly touted renaissance of nuclear power is based on fiction, not fact... There are numerous options available to meet the need for electricity in a carbon-constrained environment that are superior to building nuclear reactors".
In September 2009, Luc Oursel, chief executive of Areva Nuclear Plants (the core nuclear reactor manufacturing division of Areva) stated: "We are convinced about the nuclear renaissance". Areva has been hiring up to 1,000 people a month, "to prepare for a surge in orders from around the world". However, in June 2010, Standard & Poor's downgraded Areva’s debt rating to BBB+ due to weakened profitability.
In 2010, Trevor Findlay from the Centre for International Governance Innovation stated that "despite some powerful drivers and clear advantages, a revival of nuclear energy faces too many barriers compared to other means of generating electricity for it to capture a growing market share to 2030".
In January 2010, the International Solar Energy Society stated that "... it appears that the pace of nuclear plant retirements will exceed the development of the few new plants now being contemplated, so that nuclear power may soon start on a downward trend. It will remain to be seen if it has any place in an affordable future world energy policy".
In March 2010, Steve Kidd from the World Nuclear Association said: "Proof of whether the mooted nuclear renaissance is merely 'industry hype' as some commentators suggest or reality will come over the next decade". In 2013 Kidd characterised the situation as a nuclear slowdown, requiring the industry to focus on better economics and improving public acceptance.
In August 2010, physicist Michael Dittmar stated that: "Nuclear fission's contribution to total electric energy has decreased from about 18 per cent a decade ago to about 14 per cent in 2008. On a worldwide scale, nuclear energy is thus only a small component of the global energy mix and its share, contrary to widespread belief, is not on the rise".
In March 2011, Alexander Glaser said: "It will take time to grasp the full impact of the unimaginable human tragedy unfolding after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but it is already clear that the proposition of a global nuclear renaissance ended on that day".
In 2011, Benjamin K. Sovacool said: "The nuclear waste issue, although often ignored in industry press releases and sponsored reports, is the proverbial elephant in the room stopping a nuclear renaissance".
- Anti-nuclear protests
- Generation III reactor
- Generation IV reactor
- List of nuclear power plants
- Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents
- Megaprojects and Risk
- Megatons to Megawatts Program
- Next Generation Nuclear Plant
- Nuclear accidents in the United States
- Nuclear energy policy
- Nuclear power phase-out
- Nuclear power by country
- One Less Nuclear Power Plant
- Sayonara Nuclear Power Plants
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