‘The EU, the US and Japan are busy committing nuclear suicide’
There is agreement that the nuclear industries in the US, Japan and the EU ‒ in particular their nuclear export industries ‒ are in deep trouble. A February 2017 EnergyPostWeekly article says “the EU, the US and Japan are busy committing nuclear suicide.” Michael Shellenberger from the pro-nuclear Breakthrough Institute notes that: “Nations are unlikely to buy nuclear from nations like the US, France and Japan that are closing (or not opening) their nuclear power plants.”
Shellenberger said: “From now on, there are only three major players in the global nuclear power plant market: Korea, China and Russia. The US, the EU and Japan are just out of the game. France could get back in, but they are not competitive today.”
That’s good news for the nuclear industries in South Korea, China and Russia. But they might end up squabbling over scraps ‒ there were just three reactor construction starts last year around the world. South Korean companies have failed to win a single contract since the contract to build four reactors in the UAE. Likewise, China has made no inroads into export markets other than projects in Pakistan and Argentina.
Russia’s Rosatom has countless non-binding agreements to supply reactors, mostly in developing countries. But Russia can’t afford the loan funding promised in these agreements, and most of the potential customer countries can’t afford to pay the capital costs for reactors. Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd says it is “highly unlikely that Russia will succeed in carrying out even half of the projects in which it claims to be closely involved”.
The pro-nuclear Breakthrough Institute’s Michael Shellenberger presents cataclysmic assessments of nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis” and a “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West“.
Likewise, pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman says that a “sense of panic is emerging globally” as Toshiba exits the reactor construction industry. He adds: “After nine years of writing about the global nuclear industry, these developments make for an unusually grim outlook. It’s a very big rock hitting the pond. Toshiba’s self-inflicted wounds will result in long lasting challenges to the future of the global nuclear energy industry. Worse, it comes on top of the French government having to restructure and recapitalize Areva …”
Yurman notes that Westinghouse may struggle to keep its nuclear workforce intact: “Layoffs and cost cutting could reduce the core competencies of the firm and its ability to meet the service needs of existing customers much less be a vendor of nuclear technologies for new projects.” Likewise, Will Davis, a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, explains the failure of the Japanese/US AP1000 projects and the French EPR projects with reference to the “loss of institutional knowledge, industrial capability and construction capability” over the past generation.
As recent history has repeatedly shown, this loss of capability leads to reactor project delays and cost overruns, and that in turn leads one after another country to abandon plans for new reactors. Vast numbers of staff, skilled across a range of disciplines, need to be trained and employed if the nuclear power industry is to move ahead (or even survive). But utilities and companies are firing, not hiring, vast numbers of staff and making a perilous situation much worse … possibly irretrievable. EDF, for example, plans to cut 5,200 to 7,000 staff by 2019 (including 2,000 sacked last year) ‒ about 10% of its total workforce.
Ironically, Westinghouse, the villain in Toshiba’s demise, may have made the best strategic decision of all the nuclear utilities. In 2014, Westinghouse announced plans to expand and hopefully triple its nuclear decommissioning business. The global reactor fleet is ageing and the International Energy Agency anticipates an “unprecedented rate of decommissioning” ‒ almost 200 reactor shut-downs between 2014 and 2040. http://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-powers-rapidly-accelerating-crisis-26711/
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