One of the most read articles on this blog is ” 10 reasons to support nuclear power “, which I wrote in 2009 when the situation was very different. A lot happened since then that has made me reconsider my stance on nuclear, so here is a counter-point.
Since the article’s parution in 2009, the Fukushima catastrophe has taken place in Japan and this has significantly increased the security concerns for nuclear plants the world over.
As a result, very few developed nations are considering nuclear to be an option to answer future electricity needs.
2. Staggering overcosts and delays.
A direct consequence of Fukushima, nuclear has gone from “too cheap to meter” to “too expensive to matter “, as its costs balloon to records high. The price per MWh for Hinkley Point C in the United Kingdom is of $135 per MWh, or over 24 billion pounds ($35Billion) for only two reactors.
The EPR construction started in 2005 in Finland by the French company Areva is still not finished and the costs have nearly tripled, from an original €3.2 billion ($3.6B) to €8.5 billion ($9.5B). The Flamanville EPR reactor in France is said to have overcosts of over ten billion euros.
3. Cheaper and better alternatives.
Meanwhile, utility scale solar now costs around $60 per MWh and wind is being even lower, with $55 per MWh according to Lazard Bank. As renewable energy sources are getting more popular than ever and as energy efficiency is getting more traction, their prices are going down fast.
To BNEF, the onshore wind levelized costs decreased by 50 percent since 2009 and the price of solar PV modules have been slashed by a massive 80 percent since 2008.
4. Nuclear just can’t scale
The meteoritic rise of the renewables stated in 2009 was even bigger than the International Energy Agency and all forecasters were thinking. Meanwhile, nuclear is hardly growing globally, and this even if the World Nuclear Association states that “160 power reactors with a total net capacity of some 182,000 MWe are planned and over 300 more are proposed. “
Last year wind energy topped nuclear for the first time ever, with 432 GW of capacity worldwide. Wind power is due to reach 500 GW very soon.
5. Future tech is not getting any closer.
Due to show the feasibility of nuclear fusion on Earth, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is being built in Southern France by a consortium of many different countries. The first plasma was first scheduled to take place in 2019, now it is scheduled for 2026. The costs have, likewise, ballooned from an expected $6 billion to an estimated $25 billion. (source : BNEF, slide 56)
Research on Thorium-based nuclear is going forward in Russia, India, China, Europe and the United States but nothing big is planned in the next few years. The nuclear solution to our energy woes is still not in the immediate future.
To conclude this article, I now believe that given these elements, nuclear won’t matter much on the fight in climate change as it is just getting priced out by renewables and energy efficiency.