Nuclear decline set to continue, says report

Nuclear Engineering International Magazine, 27 August 2009

Nuclear will continue to decline according to a new report. At this point there is no obvious sign that the international nuclear industry could turn the decline into a promising future, it says.

"The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2009" by independent consultant, Mycle Schneider, professor for energy policy Steve Thomas, consultant Antony Froggatt and Doug Koplow, was released on 27 August. Commissioned by the German federal ministry of environment, nature conservation and reactor safety, it gives facts on the nuclear power plants in operation, under construction and in planning phases throughout the world. It also assesses the economic performance of past and current nuclear projects including Calvert Cliffs, Flamanville and Olkiluoto.

The report says that there seems to be a "widening gap" between the industrial reality with its current trends and the "perception of some sort of nuclear renaissance".

In 2007 nuclear power plants generated about 2600TWh and provided 14% of the world's electricity, a 2% fall compared with 2006.

As of 1 August 2009 there were 435 (370GW) nuclear reactors operating in the world and 52 units listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "under construction". At the peak in 2002 there were 444 operating nuclear reactors.

"With extremely long lead times of 10 years and more, it will be practically impossible to maintain, let alone increase the number of operating nuclear power plants over the next 20 years," the report says. (The one exception to this outcome would be if operating lifetimes could be substantially increased beyond 40 years on average; there is currently no basis for such an assumption.)

Assuming an average lifetime of 40 years for all operating and in-construction reactors, in order to maintain the same number of operating plants the report concludes that an additional 42 reactors (16GW) would have to be planned, built and started up by 2015 - that is one every month and a half. An extra 192 units (170GW) would need to be commissioned over the following 10-year period - one every 19 days, according to the report.

The future's not looking promising for new nuclear countries either. "For practically all of the potential nuclear newcomers it remains unlikely that fission power programmes can be implemented any time soon within the required technical, political, economic framework", the report notes. None of the potential new nuclear countries has proper nuclear regulations, an independent regulator, domestic , maintenance capacity, and the skilled workforce in place to run a nuclear plant. It might take at least 15 years to build up the necessary regulatory framework in countries that are starting from scratch.

In addition the report says that grid capacity is an often-overlooked constraint. This means that the economic challenge to financing a nuclear plant would be exacerbated by the very large ancillary investments required in the distribution network. Countries with a grid size and quality that could cope with a large nuclear plant in the short and medium term encounter an array of other significant barriers. These include a hostile or passive government (Australia, Norway, Malaysia, Thailand); generally hostile public opinion (Italy, Turkey); international non-proliferation concerns (Egypt, Israel); major economic concerns (Poland); a hostile environment due to earthquake and volcanic risks Indonesia); and a lack of all necessary infrastructure (Venezuela).

The decline in the number of skilled workers, supply chain constraints and rising cost estimates are also covered in detail in the report, as factors that could limit new build. The international financial crisis is exacerbating many of the problems that the proponents of the nuclear energy option are facing, the report concludes.


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