Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Having a Future

pic_uk_LocationsEven after the Fukushima Daiichi facility achieves a cold shutdown and even if no one becomes sick or dies as a result of the accident – no one has so far – the impact to the nuclear energy industry on a global basis is not yet in full focus.

This lack of focus became, um, clearer after I read an interesting story in the New York Times that aims to address this issue – it’s here, called “After Fukushima, Does Nuclear Energy Have a Future?,” that does a reasonable job of surveying what different countries are doing with nuclear energy in the shadow of Fukushima. The story tilts toward what one might call the worst case scenario, but it’s not unrealistic and it points out inconvenient counter-facts, always a plus in my book.

Despite this relatively dismal outlook for nuclear energy, the London-based World Nuclear Association predicts a 30 percent increase in global nuclear generating capacity over the next decade; it foresees 79 more reactors online by 2020, for a total of 514, even taking Fukushima into account. And it sees a 66 percent increase by 2030, with capacity additions in China, India, South Korea and Russia outnumbering projected declines in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

May not portend titanic growth but it doesn’t suggest a “dismal outlook,” either. Maybe writer Stephanie Cook even had to rush a bit to get the U.K. into her panoply of gloom before the country’s apparent decision to move forward – she does go for the worst case.

But really, so what? As the selection of stories included here indicates, things are happening in the nuclear sphere and people are saying encouraging things. Here in the U.S., there have been plentiful opportunities for big protests and hijacking public meetings, but there hasn’t really been any of that.

Now, I’ll gladly admit that some countries are trying to ensure nothing happens in the nuclear sphere and saying discouraging things – maybe I’ll round up a few of those later on – but this strikes me as the time where things will get said on all sides and energy policies will be formed and reformed accordingly. Nuclear energy may lose some ground but may well make up a lot of it – the point is, we don’t yet seem to be on the leaf of the calendar where that tale can be told fully and honestly.


Meanwhile, however, there are bits of the story to be told. Consider:

The U.K.'s chief nuclear inspector said Tuesday he saw no reason to curtail operations at existing nuclear power plants or change siting strategies for new reactors following the Fukushima disaster, effectively giving the green light for investments in new nuclear reactors to move forward.

And over to China:

Chinese regulators performed a four-month review of safety at all existing nuclear reactors and reactors under construction after the Fukushima meltdowns and declared them safe. Safety reviews continue at reactors where construction had not yet started at the time of the Fukushima accident.


Mr. Jiang [Kejun, a director of the Energy Research Institute at the National Development and Reform Commission], said in an interview that nuclear power construction targets for 2020 had not yet been set and might end up slightly lower than they would have been without the meltdowns in Fukushima. But he and other Chinese officials say that China’s rapidly rising electricity consumption makes nuclear power essential.


Also from the New York Times:

For instance, Germany’s decision to shut down its nuclear facilities would raise wholesale prices for utilities’ power by as much as €7, or close to $10, per megawatt hour in Germany, on average over the next decade, and by up to €5 per megawatt hour in France and the Netherlands, according to Fabien Roques, the director of European power for IHS Cera, a research and consulting firm.

“In some places we have a common market for energy, but we don’t have common procedures for generating energy that we can actually rely on,” said Mr. Roques. “You can see how this situation creates friction between countries.”

That’s a lot. It must be fantastically annoying for France, which will likely be shoveling some of its nuclear-generated electricity Germany’s way. Call it the unintended consequences of a high-minded stand.

The British nuclear fleet – from Centrica. Click for larger.


Shaf said...

Very interesting article! Here's another article that debates the merits of nuclear energy


SteveK9 said...

China really is the key I think. As they complete more and more plants at a faster rate, and as the benefits become real instead of hypothetical, the world is going to take notice. I think the response in many quarters will be 'I'd like some of that'.

In the US we really need Vogtle and V.C. Sumner to go well. That will change a lot of minds here.

Anonymous said...

In the longer term, the largest impact from Fukushima on nuclear expansion is likely to be the more rapid introduction of reactor designs with passive safety systems. Westinghouse is going to do very well, while Areva's order book for EPRs will remain thin.