12 may 2011

Through the Climate Action Network's email list, we have received word of four articles from the bilingual Chinadialogue detailing the current debate in China on nuclear power, three of them by Chinese environmentalists. Because of their length, we will only give the titles with click-ons to the urls.

One of these articles, however, the second one by Chen Jiliang, is of particular interest inasmuch as it reviews for its Chinese audience a set of papers on nuclear power published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. I cite the central part of that article for our readers. The figures in the fourth paragraph on nuclear versus wind subsidies in the United States are of particular interest:

"One report, 'The Economics of Nuclear Power: An Update', by Steve Thomas, emphasises the costs of nuclear safety. Safety is why the cost of nuclear power stations has increased fivefold in the last decade: banks will not take on the risks associated with funding nuclear-power stations. For example, six of Wall Street’s largest investment banks told the US Department of Energy that unless taxpayers underwrite 100% of the risks, they will not lend to new nuclear projects. The report also finds that where the power sector is a regulated monopoly, the real cost of capital will be relatively low – 5% to 8%. But where there is a competitive market, the cost of capital will be much higher – at least 15%.

"Meanwhile, the costs of constructing a nuclear power plant – not including decommissioning costs, or the processing and handling of nuclear waste – represent 70% of total costs. International experience suggests that modern reactors require huge on-site construction, for which cost control is problematic – it often runs over budget. The designs may be changed during construction – for example, new designs may have not been certified when construction started, or an accident at an existing plant may require changes to those being built. Delays are also common. There seems to be little “learning curve” or indeed “economy of scale” in nuclear power.

"The author concludes that while nuclear power plant designs can in theory meet the safety standards of regulators, the costs are prohibitive. Nuclear power plants can only be built when the government is prepared to ignore the results of public consultation and provide large subsidies. Moreover, the bills for decommissioning and dealing with nuclear waste are also left for the taxpayer to pick up.

"There are huge opportunity costs associated with investing in nuclear power instead of renewable energy. In another report, 'Systems for Change: Nuclear Power vs. Energy Efficiency + Renewables?', by Antony Frogatt and Mycle Schneider, the authors argue that in the first 15 years of their development in the United States both nuclear and wind power produced large amounts of energy – 2.6 billion kilowatt-hours in the case of nuclear, 1.9 billion for wind – but nuclear power received 40 times as much money in subsidies (US$39.4 billion, as opposed to $900 million). The report concludes that nuclear power spends huge amounts of money that could otherwise be invested in cleaner, faster-to-develop sources of renewable energy.

"As for the common view that nuclear energy is a large and stable producer of energy, the authors point out that such large, centralised power generation often produces surplus energy that cannot be saved. Increasing renewable-energy generating capacity requires flexible, medium-load infrastructure, rather than inflexible heavy-load power generating plants. In their vision for low-carbon generation, the authors suggest bi-directional grids so that energy consumers can also store and send power back to the grid. The smart meters and grids for this are already under development."


Meng Si, Nuclear is the Safest Option, May 10, 2011

Chen Jiliang, Atomic Risks Beyond Radiation, April 26, 2011

Anthony Froggatt, What Next for Chinese Nuclear?, March 17, 2011

Yuan Ying, Wang Haotong, China\'s Nuclear Waste Rush, March 26, 2011

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