Despite the endless rhetoric about a ‘nuclear renaissance’, there are fewer power reactors today than there were a decade ago, writes Jim Green. The one country with a really big nuclear build program is China, but no one expects it to meet its targets. And with over 200 reactor shut-downs due by 2040, the industry will have to run very hard indeed just to stay put. The nuclear power industry’s malaise was all too evident at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris in December. Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd noted: “It was entirely predictable that the nuclear industry achieved precisely nothing at the recent Paris COP21 talks and in the subsequent international agreement. … Analysis of the submissions of the 196 governments that signed up to the Paris agreement, demonstrating their own individual schemes on how to reduce national carbon emissions, show that nearly all of them exclude nuclear power. The future is likely to repeat the experience of 2015 when 10 new reactors came into operation worldwide but 8 shut down. So as things stand, the industry is essentially running to stand still.” With 30 operable reactors, 24 under construction, and many more in the pipeline, China remains the only country with significant nuclear expansion plans. China is unlikely to meet any of its targets – 58 GW by 2020, 110 GW by 2030 and up to 250 GW by 2050 – but growth will be significant nonetheless. Growth could however be derailed by a serious accident, which is all the more likely because of China’s inadequate nuclear safety standards, inadequate regulation, lack of transparency, repression of whistleblowers, world’s worst insurance and liability arrangements, security risks, and widespread corruption. There are fears, for example, that China may press ahead with its twin-EPR project at Taishan despite fears over the metallurgy of its reactor vessels and heads. Similar components supplied to the EPR at Flamanville in France have been found to have areas of excessive carbon leading to brittleness and possible failure in use. The French project is now on hold and may never be completed.
Ecologist 30th Jan 2016 read more »