It’s quite something to find myself in a country where nuclear power is even more of a basket case than it is in the UK – and that of course is the United States of America. Not yet dead, but struggling to find a reason to go on living. And absolutely no mystery about why that’s happened. Large-scale, old-style nuclear reactors, anywhere in the world, can only be made to work when governments override market forces and use taxpayers’ money to keep those nuclear white elephants staggering along before they finally end up in that inevitable nuclear graveyard. Only 18 months ago, Toshiba was talking about ’50 potential contracts’, primarily in India and China. But behind the scenes, it was already going horribly wrong, with its four AP1000 reactors under construction in the USA (two in Georgia and two in South Carolina) racking up incredible cost overruns – now estimated at around $14bn! Even EdF would have a job competing with that kind of financial recklessness. But here’s the thing: those four reactors are the ONLY reactors currently under construction in the USA! The company is still talking tough about none of this having any impact on its determination to complete construction of all four reactors, but no-one I’ve been talking to over here seems terribly convinced. And that pretty much means curtains for the US nuclear industry as it operates today. Right now, there are just 99 reactors still in operation, 44 of which are at least 40 years old! The remaining nuclear companies are now talking, inevitably, about needing to extend the lifetime of some of these reactors to 80 years (twice their designed lifetime!), and you can see why. Financially, that may make sense, were it not for the fact that the older a reactor gets, the less reliable it is, the more time it has to be offline for maintenance, and the more prone to accidents it is. The reality is that half of that ageing reactor fleet is likely to close by 2030. And there will be no new reactors (apart from those four dodgy AP1000 reactors) to replace them. The only company in the running to take over the NuGen consortium is KEPCO, the Korean utility and nuclear operator, which is hardly reassuring. Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment commented recently that: “KEPCO is itself still emerging from a major scandal that surfaced in 2012, involving bribery, corruption and faked safety tests for critical nuclear plant equipment, which resulted in a prolonged shut-down of a number of nuclear power stations, and the jailing of power engineers and parts suppliers.” As you know, I also happen to believe that Hinkley Point will never get built either, primarily because EdF is in even worse financial difficulties than Toshiba – but by virtue of being 80% owned by the French Government, will be able to stagger along for a while yet. And I also doubt that Wylfa will ever be built either, this time because Hitachi (the principal partner in this project) has incurred huge losses on a uranium enrichment project in the USA, and it also very exposed to the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
Jonathon Porritt 11th April 2017 read more »
The nuclear power crisis escalated dramatically on March 29 with the announcement that US nuclear giant Westinghouse, a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The filing marks the start of lengthy and complex negotiations with creditors and customers and the US and Japanese governments. The companies are in crisis because of massive cost overruns building four AP1000 nuclear power reactors in the southern US states of Georgia and South Carolina. The combined cost overruns for the four reactors amount to about US$11.2bn and counting. Stephen Byrd from Morgan Stanley said that the cost of the plants, if completed, will be about twice Westinghouse’s original estimate. The crisis escalated again on April 11 when Toshiba released unaudited financial figures and noted in its financial statement that there is “substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern”. Toshiba reported a net loss of US$5.9bn for the Oct.‒Dec. 2016 quarter, mainly because of a US$6.3bn writedown on Westinghouse. Equity stood at negative US$5.7bn as of 31 March 2017. The AP1000 fiasco in the US shows that industry giants can be brought to their knees by cost overruns on just a few reactors. Further confirmation comes from two French EPR reactors under construction in France and Finland: combined cost overruns amount to at least US$13.5bn and counting, and French utilities EDF and Areva would both be bankrupt if not for repeated multi-billion-dollar government bailouts. The French Liberation newspaper said on March 29 that the Toshiba / Westinghouse crisis, and the huge problems facing French utilities EDF and Areva, forebode a lasting “nuclear winter”. A February 15 piece in the Financial Times said: “Hopes of a nuclear renaissance have largely disappeared. For many suppliers, not least Toshiba, simply avoiding a nuclear dark ages would be achievement enough.”
Renew Economy 13th April 2017 read more »
David Elliott: Nuclear power was originally sold on a lie, writes Dave Elliott. While we were being told it would make electricity ‘too cheap to meter’, insiders knew it cost at least 50% more than conventional generation. Since then nuclear costs have only risen, while renewable energy prices are on a steep decline. And now the nuclear behemoths are crumbling … not a moment too soon. Dave’s new book ‘Nuclear Power: past, present and future’ for the Institute of Physics looks at the long turgid nuclear story in detail and includes full references. It is due to be published leter this month, April 2017.
Ecologist 12th April 2017 read more »