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Nuclear power’s dark future

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Nuclear power constitutes the world’s most subsidy-fattened energy industry, yet it faces an increasingly uncertain future. The global nuclear power industry has enjoyed growing state subsidies over the years, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations.

Despite the fat subsidies, new developments are highlighting the nuclear power industry’s growing travails. For example, France — the “poster child” of atomic power — is rethinking its love affair with nuclear energy. Its parliament voted last month to cut the country’s nuclear-generating capacity by a third by 2025 and focus instead on renewable sources by emulating neighboring countries like Germany and Spain.

As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home because of skyrocketing costs, the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash-laden oil sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. Such exports raise new challenges related to freshwater resources, nuclear safety and nuclear-weapons proliferation.

Still, the bulk of the reactors under construction or planned worldwide are in just four countries — China, Russia, South Korea and India.

Six decades after Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power confronts an increasingly uncertain future, largely because of unfavorable economics. The just-released International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2014 report states: “Uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear — government policy, public confidence, financing in liberalized markets, competitiveness versus other sources of generation, and the looming retirement of a large fleet of older plants.”

The stock of the state-owned French nuclear technology giant Areva recently tumbled after it cited major delays in its reactor projects and a “lackluster” global atomic-energy market to warn of an uncertain outlook for its business.

For example, the Areva-designed plant in Finland, on Olkiluoto Island, is running at least nine years behind schedule, with its cost expected to rise from €3.2 billion to almost €8.5 billion. Even in Areva’s home market, the Flamanville 3 reactor project in northern France is facing serious delays and cost overruns.

In Japan, the last of its 48 commercial reactors went offline in September 2013. Repeated polls have shown that the Japanese public remains opposed to nuclear restarts by a 2 to 1 margin, despite toughened safety regulations after the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Yet the southern city of Satsuma Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture recently gave its consent to restarting, as soon as early next year, two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company.

Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital and water intensity and longest plant-construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors. The plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, still averages about a decade, as underscored by the new reactors commissioned in the past decade. In fact, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014 acknowledges that 49 of the 66 reactors currently under construction are plagued with delays and cost overruns. Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half a century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times. Just in the past decade, average costs jumped from $1,000 per installed kilowatt to almost $8,000/kW.

In this light, nuclear power has inexorably been on a downward trajectory. The nuclear share of the world’s total electricity production reached its peak of 17 percent in the late 1980s. Since then, it has been falling, and is currently estimated at about 13 percent, even as new uranium discoveries have swelled global reserves. With proven reserves having grown by 12.5 percent since just 2008, there is enough uranium to meet current demand for more than 100 years. Yet the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear-generating capacity. In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear-generated electricity.

Before the Fukushima disaster, the global nuclear power industry — a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state-owned or state-guided firms — had been trumpeting a global “nuclear renaissance.” This spiel was largely anchored in hope.

However, the triple meltdown at Fukushima not only reopened old safety concerns but also has set in motion the renaissance of nuclear power in reverse. The dual imperative for costly upgrades post-Fukushima and for making the industry competitive, including by cutting back on the munificent government subsidies it enjoys, underscores nuclear power’s dimming future. New nuclear plants in most countries are located in coastal regions so that these water-guzzling facilities can largely draw on seawater for their operations and not bring freshwater resources under strain.

But coastal areas are often not only heavily populated but also constitute prime real estate. Moreover, the projected greater frequency of natural disasters like storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis due to climate change, along with the rise of ocean levels, makes seaside reactors particularly vulnerable.

The risks that seaside reactors face from global-warming-induced natural disasters became evident more than six years before Fukushima, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated the Madras Atomic Power Station. But the reactor core could be kept in a safe shutdown mode because the electrical systems had been installed on higher ground than the plant level.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused significant damage at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Florida, but fortunately not to any critical system. And in a 2012 incident, an alert was declared at the New Jersey Oyster Creek nuclear power plant — the oldest operating commercial reactor in the U.S. — after water rose in its water intake structure during Hurricane Sandy, potentially affecting the pumps that circulate cooling water through the plant.

All of Britain’s nuclear power plants are located along the coast, and a government assessment has identified as many as 12 of the country’s 19 civil nuclear sites as being at risk due to rising sea levels. Several nuclear plants in Britain, as in a number of other countries, are just a few meters above sea level.

Yet even as Germany steps out of the nuclear power business, Britain is pressing ahead with a costly new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, underscoring the divisions among European countries over nuclear power. Britain indeed intends to build several more plants to replace its aging nuclear stations. The Hinkley Point project, however, is running years behind schedule, with the costs mounting.

Globally, nuclear power is set to face increasing challenges due to its inability to compete with other energy sources in pricing. Another factor is how to manage the rising volumes of spent nuclear fuel in the absence of permanent disposal facilities. More fundamentally, without a breakthrough in fusion energy or greater commercial advances in the area that the U.S. has strived to block — breeder (and thorium) reactors — nuclear power is in no position to lead the world out of the fossil-fuel age.

Brahma Chellaney, a regular contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

  • Richard Solomon

    I did not know that France is rethinking its love affair with nuclear power. If only PM Abe of Japan would do likewise. But he is too much a captive of the nuclear power industry to consider the reality of the problems these plants present, let alone the opinion of 2/3 of the population. With a snap election coming up the voters of Japan can send him a message about this, and other failed policies. It is not likely that they will vote LDP candidates out of office, however.

    • greenthinker2012

      PM Abe won the election with a pretty wide margin while being openly positive about restarting the nuclear reactors in his country.

    • Sam Gilman

      France is not abandoning nuclear power. The socialist Energy Minister Segolene Royal is calling for the construction of at least two plants and the prolongation of current plants.

      http://reut.rs/14XCZnY

  • GRLCowan

    Nuclear power is not subsidized. It does, however, deprive governments of very large amounts of fossil fuel tax revenue.

    From the point of view of persons who care only about government money, this is essentially the same thing: money that might have been in the public purse, and perhaps, from there, destined to travel to their pockets, is not. The truth, that it never got there at all, staying instead in taxpayers’ pockets, is not useful to them.

    • mortisier

      “Nuclear power is not subsidized.” I have never read such B.S in my life.
      1. Not a single bank on the planet will loan for construction costs without federal government backed loans. These are almost always taped into because not a SINGLE reactor has ever been built for less than twice the original budget.

      2. Not a single insurance company on the planet will insure a reactor due to the unmeasurable cost associated with the small. but possible risk of a disaster. This cost falls directly on the resident reactors government. When accidents do happen you and I and virtually everyone on the globe pays.

      3. Uranium and Plutonium procurement and exploration are heavily subsidized.

      4. In most countries including the USA. the enrichment process is preformed by the government in military facilities and sold at astronomically reduced, subsidized rates.

      5. Waste disposal is a financial behemoth to the federal governments of countries with active reactor generation. We don’t have a single plant sending waste to Yucca Mountain and how much has the U.S government via tax payers paid over the years of its development? Talk to the good folks of Washington state about the unsubsidized cost of cleanup at Hanford. Or just bring up the WPPSS ( WHOOPS) project.
      Not subsidized? your smoking.

      6. Decommissioning. Every reactor that has been decommissioned world wide has far outspent any reserves that they had on hand for the task. When The Sellafield nuclear power facility in Europe used up its decommissioning funds the British government had to step in, at this point they have been on the hook for 111 BILLION U.S. dollars with British Parliament member Margaret Hodge saying “there is no indication of when the cost will stop rising”

      For $110 billion, an investment in unsubsidized solar thermal would build 67.9 GW of capacity with 12 hour storage meeting 117 % of peak power demand in the UK.

      Care to rethink your statement?

      • Nikola Tasev

        1.”not a SINGLE reactor has ever been built for less than twice the original budget”
        Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant has been built withot cost overruns. Grands statements are nice and well, but take care that they are true.

        2. “Not a single insurance company on the planet will insure a reactor due to the unmeasurable cost associated with the small. but possible risk of a disaster.”
        This is the same policy used with large hydropower plants. Nothing unusual in that.
        What is unusual is that commercial nuclear power kills far less people than commercial coal power, yet is presented as far more dangerous.

        The Sellafield nuclear power facility is far from typical for today’s power plants. I like how anti-nuclear people like to think all nucelar plants are equal – they are not.
        “The main decommissioning challenges relate to materials left over from this period (1956 )and reprocessing operations that separated uranium, plutonium and fission products from spent nuclear fuel. The site’s two air-cooled, open-circuit, graphite-moderated reactors, Windscale Piles 1 and 2, were built in the space of just two years with only minimal provision made for eventual decommissioning.”

        Modern plants are far different, a lot more secure (all nuclear meltdowns have occured in power plants built before 1978 and lacking modern safety features). Commercial power plants also lack the facilities to separate nuclear bomb material – the greatest issue in the Sellafield plant.

        Even so, if it takes someone 110 billion to decomission a power plant the problem is with the decomissioner, not the plant. This is the cost of 22 nuclear reactors, built properly (without sudden design changes in the middle of construction and without incompetent management). These reactors could have 22GW of capacity, and because their average capacity factor is around 80-90%, compared to 25% of solar thermal, could generate a lot more electricity a lot more reliably.

      • greenthinker2012

        In answer to your point # 5 the answer is less than zero.
        In fact the waste disposal costs were paid up front to the federal government by the nuclear plant operators.
        The federal government has many billions of dollars sitting in its accounts as they stall plans for waste storage.

  • Dipak Bose

    More people died of coal mine accidents than because of accidents in nuclear power.
    Breeder reactors have great future, as it needs very low level of uranium just at the starting point.
    Solar energy producing reflectors in the outer space, which the Soviet Union made in the sky in 1987 can produce all the energy the World needs.
    The author is not an expert in this area but just a journalist who writes about everything from chicken to nuclear plants.

    • Nikola Tasev

      I absolutely agree.
      When a coal lime accident kills dozens of people noone says we must ditch coal because it is too dangerous. When a oil rig catches fire and kills dozens of people noone says we must ditch oil because it is too dangerous.
      But when a nuclear power plant is damaged by the largest tsunami in a hunded years – everyone loses their minds and screams against nucelar power.

  • Starviking

    For an apparent academic, Prof. Chellaney’s article has a lot of loaded words and hyperbole.

    Words such as “fat subsidies” and “subsidy-fattened” are certainly biased. what is worse it that they are not backed by any objective facts. The US’s Energy Information Administration looked into recent US energy subsidies and found that Coal got 1.358 billion dollars, Gas 2.820 billion, Nuclear 2.499 billion, and Renewables 14.674 billion. Which is the subsidy-fattened energy industry?

    As for France “rethinking” its “love affair” with nuclear energy, Prof. Chellaney forgets to mention that this is due to Francois Hollande’s deal with the Green Party for support. So, less of a rethink, and more of a political decision.

    Nuclear Power’s uneconomical status is mentioned, but not the root causes – Nuclear Power being excluded from mechanisms to reward low-CO2 production of energy, with rewards the subsidy-glutted renewables sector is not mentioned. Delayed projects are mentioned, but not the regulatory mechanisms which cause them.

    We also get the “too cheap to meter” attack, without adding the key point that Strauss was referring to Fusion Power.

    Nuclear power’s capital cost is mentioned – but what is left unsaid is that when building is over, nuclear makes up for it with low fuel and running costs. As for water use, more is left unmentioned – like Coal being near neck-and neck with Nuclear for water use, with Solar Thermal and Biofuels being close behind. Add in Carbon Capture to Coal and Biofuels, and water use per MW jumps.

    As for power plant vulnerability, as we can see in Japan, these things can be addressed.

    All-in-all a disappointingly poorly researched article from a writer who should know better.

    • greenthinker2012

      It should be embarrassing for a professor to write an article that does not even meet Wikipedia’s minimum standards for neutral language and neutral tone.

  • forsetiboston

    Really? Cost parity without subsidies by when? Cost parity while not taking into account the money spent on backup generation when?

    • mortisier

      Really! Just read the link. New plants are being built with molten salt thermal storage for cost parity. This is not according to me it’s according to Duetsche bank and dozens of other analyst. It’s not rocket science, just divide the cost of production by the lifetime KW delivered and Solar is becoming cheaper than all other power generation methods. Thermal storage is a concept that a 3 rd grade kid can understand. If you think we haven’t or can’t manage thermal storage and at the same time converse about a power source that by definition contains the chaos of splitting atoms, you are not using an open mind.

      • forsetiboston

        So a few things based on your article and not the snide response. One analyst from the article, says parity in one year. What is the lifetime KW delivered per panel, they do degrade over time if my “3rd grade” education serves me well. Solar is cheaper when it is subsidized, that’s the only way its cheaper whether with direct subsidies or with indirect ones (cost of electricity going up due to base load generators running). Further, and again, if you covered the entire nation of Japan, now, you may need a 10th grade education for this, it still would not produce the amount of energy required to run the country.

        Feel free to argue that all you want. In California we have more solar power than we know what to do with. In the previous 24h (that means yesterday) according to Cal-ISO (the independent grid operator) solar power produced 0MW of power over a period of 14h. I have a weeks worth of data, I actually have more which is obtained from Cal-ISO that says the same thing for this month. Solar Thermal, we have that one wonderful plant here, goes about the same 14 to sometimes 18h without producing 1, single, MW of energy.

        How do you think “us” Californians make up the gap? We have deployed nat-gas. Period, that’s it. Chevron loves this state just that much. Since we started requiring renewables in CA natural-gas has grown a whopping 47% here.

        As for Germany, the poster child of the solar revolution. How does she generate power? Wind, on-shore, off-shore, solar thermal? Brown Coal that’s right, and her plants are going strong.

        So you can talk about price parity with base load generation when (not it’s coming and 3rd graders get it) you can produce or draw base-load levels of generation 24h / day, 365 days / year. Until then Solar and Wind will never be on parity it’s an apples to cherry tomato comparison.

        If you think that splitting the atom is chaos, then you might want to try to understand the science behind it. Perhaps it is your heart that is opened to solar and not the raw science behind producing power to make the world electric (trains, cars, trucks, etc.). Solar isn’t going to do it now, it’s not going to do it 10 years from now.

  • Vm

    \the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India
    and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash-laden oil
    sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. Such exports raise new challenges
    related to freshwater resources, nuclear safety and nuclear-weapons
    proliferation.\

    nuclear plants can be cooled with seawater. And the PWR’s being constructed in the UAE are designed to be very difficult to use to produce weapons grade plutonium. No nuclear weapons power used PWR’s to produce weapons grade plutonium. India, pakistan and north korea all either used heavy water reactors or graphite moderated reactors specifically designed for weapons grade plutonium production

    nuclear power already creates large amount of heat. Some of that heat can be used to distill seawater into fresh water

  • Sam Gilman

    Climate change is the most serious issue facing humanity, and so public discussion of how we tackle it, and how we change our energy sector, is absolutely vital. Alas, such a discussion is not helped by an article that contains several very serious and sloppy factual errors that undermine the central arguments of the author. One feels he is just yet another talking head in the media sounding off about nuclear and renewables without actually bothering to do the reading first. This idle chatter won’t do. The topic is too serious for that. My comment is rather long, but I hope it illustrates the challenges we have in changing how we produce our electricity, as well as in what ways Professor Chellaney gets so much wrong.

    Here are some examples of errors in this piece, which seeks to show nuclear power as uneconomic, dangerous, unnecessary and politically unpalatable. All of his claims are based on faulty data, and at times the errors appear to be prompted by clear bias.

    Nuclear power constitutes the world’s most subsidy-fattened energy industry

    No, per unit of electricity, in industrialised countries, subsidies are now much higher for renewable energies, particularly solar. I’m sure Professor Chellaney must know about these subsidies.

    [nuclear power] generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations.

    Again, this is straightforwardly false. The most dangerous waste is from coal production. Coal kills one hundred thousand people a year in Professor Chellaney’s own country of India. On the other hand, there have been, as far as I know, precisely zero deaths from nuclear waste (excepting a nuclear protester who jumped in front of a train that was carrying waste). The claim that nuclear waste is impossible to store safely is simply a myth propagated by anti-nuclear activists and repeated unthinkingly by their followers.

    Regarding safety in general, several independent studies have been done on the deaths/unit of electricity for each source in use, and the same result comes up: nuclear is actually one of the safest, watt for watt – and that includes deaths from Chernobyl (Fukushima radiation has caused none and likely will cause very few deaths). The results of two studies are reported here. Of course, media coverage might have you believe otherwise, but deaths from gas explosions, oil fires or cancers from coal just don’t get the coverage, (we’ve normalised fossil fuel deaths to an appalling extent).

    Six decades after Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,”

    As an academic, Professor Chellaney should not quote something without checking the original source. As another commenter has pointed out, Lewis Strauss was not talking about nuclear fission. He was not talking about civilian nuclear energy as it is even today, let alone 60 years ago. Strauss was talking about nuclear fusion, a proposed source of civilian energy that currently does not exist. The quote is irrelevant to the current debate in so many ways. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe a Professor’s job is to be careful with his sources, not just clump stuff together off the Internet.

    Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital and water intensity and longest plant-construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors.

    First of all, the “highest water intensity” claim is wrong: having checked several sources (it took five minutes on google, Professor), it seems that concentrated solar power and hydropower (of course) consume more water per unit of electricity – two other vital sources of low CO2 energy, as can geothermal. One source is here. We shouldn’t abandon these other forms of low CO2 energy either. In addition, not all nuclear reactors are water cooled. I don’t know where Chellaney got his figures, but I suspect he looked for the worst study he could find for nuclear and took that to represent the science.

    Secondly, the capital intensity claim contains a kind of statistical sleight of hand by conflating two different numbers: capacity and output (If the Professor doesn’t understand the difference, he should withdraw from discussions of energy until he does). In terms of capacity (theoretical maximum output), nuclear power is one of the most highly capital intensive sources of electricity (but the most). That is, for each KW unit of capacity, it costs more. However, capacity is not the same as output. Nuclear power stations can produce electricity all the time, save for periods of maintenance. In other words, they use a lot of their capacity overall. In the US, they historically operate at 90% capacity, while in Japan, it’s 75%. On the other hand, solar panels do not, averaged out over a period of time, use anything like their full capacity. They don’t produce at night, and produce very little when it’s cloudy. Likewise, wind turbines, although better than solar in this respect, don’t produce when there’s no wind. Depending on the climate and season, solar panels produce between 10-20% of the time (Japan is 10-15%). Wind is 20%-40%. That is, these sources do not use their capacity as fully on average. This means that nuclear power’s capital intensity for electricity actually produced – which is what we are paying for – is lower than wind or solar, particularly for “concentrated” solar, which is the current state of the art approach to smoothing out the peaks and troughs of solar electricity production.

    All that may sound terribly wonkish and technical, but it matters. If the numbers he is relying on are out by a factor of five, it matters.

    Professor Chellaney’s problematic handling data on electricity and energy is also shown here:

    Yet the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear-generating capacity.

    The statement in itself is meaningless. What we need is a mix of renewables and nuclear (and hydro), so one source of power being used a bit more than another is irrelevant. Of course, the rhetorical implication is the inherent superior viability of renewables, such that we don’t need anything else for our electricity generation. There are three big problems with this statement being used to compare nuclear with renewables, which show up the fundamental technical problems with relying solely on renewables. First with the premise: as I explained above, capacity and output are two different things. You would need six or more 500MWe capacity solar PV arrays in Japan to match the actual output of one single 500MWe capacity nuclear reactor.

    Secondly, he ignores the very well known problem of grid penetration that limits how much solar and wind can be used before serious technical obstacles are encountered. Wind and solar are not “dispatchable”: you can’t get power from them whenever you want. Instead, they are “intermittent”. What this means is that when you raise the contribution of wind and especially solar beyond a certain level (which is what Chellaney wants), your overall supply of electricity starts to fluctuate a lot, and with little predictability except in certain climates. This in itself presents technical difficulties and requires serious expenditure on upgrading the grid – suddenly we need to transfer electricity over vast distances to smooth out these fluctations, and we need systems that can react quickly to surges and drops in supply. However, there is a further disastrous effect on cost when raising the average level above the capacity factor. To use simple figures: if solar has a capacity factor of 10%, in order to raise the average level of solar electricity to more than 10% of demand, you need to have capacity that is higher than 100% of total demand. That means, on occasion, you (sometimes very suddenly) produce more electricity than you need. If you don’t have a storage system and simply don’t use this electricity, the overall unit cost of solar goes up. Each extra percentage of average output above capacity factor (here, 10%) increases overall unit cost, and at an increasing rate. Without storage, there are natural upper limits to how much intermittent energy it is sensible to use. This is basic arithmetic. We cannot wish our way round it.

    Alas, the third problem is storage. Of course, storage is not 100% efficient, so the immediate effect of using storage is to lower the capacity factor of the intermittent supply, and thereby the cost per unit of useable electricity, already increased by the cost of the storage system itself. Furthermore, there is a technical barrier to overcome: the EROI problem, Energy Return On energy Invested. Creating storage facilities costs energy. Calculations for solar suggest that the amount of energy you would need to put into building and maintaining the extraction system (eg the solar array), the storage system and the distribution network is, relative to the useable energy you would get out of it, simply too high for sustainable use in an industrial civilisation. We could build a 100% solar PV+storage+distribution system now on the back of fossil fuel surplus energy, but we would subsequently be left without enough surplus energy to maintain and renew such a system and meanwhile power the economy too. And lastly, the only technology we know of that can actually store electricity on the scale and duration necessary for an economy powered purely by wind and solar, is pumping water upwards into reservoirs – which requires water usage, land etc, or using hydropower. Despite what renewable industry marketing agents might have you believe about breakthroughs in battery technologies, we have a serious storage problem that doesn’t have a “one more heave” solution. We need a radically new technology. There are battery solutions which smooth out intermittency, or which lessen direct reliance on fossil fuels (such as hybrid cars), but not solutions which would allow a comprehensive dependence on intermittent power sources, and none appear to be in the pipeline. Not on the scale, duration and efficiency we need.

    The net result of these problems is that if you don’t use nuclear or have hydropower available (which is not only dispatchable, but can effectively act as a storage facility), you effectively have to rely on fossil fuels for “always on” baseload and backup. By pushing ahead only with renewables, you entrench fossil fuels into your system. That’s not good.

    In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear-generated electricity.

    For India and China, this factoid means less than nothing, as both nuclear and wind in both countries is (a) historically low and (b) being expanded rapidly. Currently, both sources currently provide a vanishingly small percentage of energy (China is nearly 80% coal-powered). In no sense have nuclear or wind been “maxed out”. Both sources of energy are being built out aggressively. By 2020 the Chinese plan to expand wind power to 5% of all electricity actually produced. Their expansion plans for nuclear – 6%, and this is on projected rising electricity demand. My argument here is not that wind power is bad – it isn’t, it has a good role to play. It is that Professor Chellaney is just throwing numbers out as rhetoric, when his job as an academic is to provide substance. It’s not an honest way of working, and he has to make sure his work is honest.

    As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports,

    Again, this is wrong. “Uneconomical” means that it is becoming more expensive than other sources of energy. Yet, what if we look at the projected (2019) levelised costs in the US (table 1)? Nuclear is predicted to be cheaper than solar and biomass, offshore wind, and all forms of mitigated coal. France has some of the cheapest electricity in Europe.

    Repeated polls have shown that the Japanese public remains opposed to nuclear restarts by a 2 to 1 margin, despite toughened safety regulations

    Yet again, this is simply a false claim, probably due to sloppy examination of sources. Actual simple opinion polls show that 60% want nuclear power phased out by the 2030s. Only about 20% are opposed to restarts. As an illustration of how serious Professor Chellaney’s mistake is, in major recent elections, where mainstream candidates standing for the immediate cessation of nuclear power stood predominantly on that principle, they have lost. Deliberative polling struggles even to reach 50% support for an ultimate phase-out. In any case, if we are going to take public opinion into account, do we also give forceful weight to growing popular sentiment against wind turbines?

    The risks that seaside reactors face from global-warming-induced natural disasters became evident more than six years before Fukushima, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated the Madras Atomic Power Station.

    It is good that Professor Chellaney finally gets round to global warming. After all, it’s why we all need to talk about energy, and it presents a threat to hundreds of millions, if not billions of lives if it goes as unchecked as it is now. But, for the love of God, Professor Chellaney, tsunamis are not caused by global warming. The reach of a tsunami inland may be affected by sea-level rises, but for coastal power stations, a tsunami is a tsunami and is caused by earthquakes. (Professor Chellaney also writes as if all new nuclear build will be based on the 1960s designs of Fukushima 1. It won’t. The technology has moved on from then, and in significant ways is much safer – not simply through extra safety procedures, but in the fundamental principles they work on. If he doesn’t know this, should he be writing about nuclear energy?)

    Instead, particularly, for his own country of India, the biggest threat from global warming is what happens to water supplies. Himalayan glacial meltwater feeding the great rivers is relied upon by hundreds of millions. Droughts and floods are going disrupt agriculture. Fast action is required. By all means, build out renewables. I support that too. But if the Professor is going to stand up in public, and use his reputation as a “public intellectual” (as Wikipedia has it) to intervene in the debate as if that means he has done due professional diligence on his work which he plainly has not done, then he is doing a disservice to his calling and to the public at large. The stakes are too high.

    It is the opinion of an increasing number of environmentalists, including leading figures in the battle against global warming, that nuclear power is an essential part of any credible plan to avoid serious climate change. By all means, people opposing this should put their arguments forward – but please, only so long as they do so with actual facts and an honest commitment to solving this crisis.

  • brians000

    As I recall, there was a great earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and severely damaged the Fukushima power plant.
    From the reaction of the anti nuke people in Japan however one might presume it was the other way around. That the power plant failed and caused the earthquake and tsunami. The number of people exposed to radiation from the power plant just doesn’t compare to the number of people killed by the tsunami waves.

    Seems like the following sums up the logic being used against nuke plants:
    “It’s impossible to do anything about earthquakes and tsunamis but we have to do something so lets shut down the nuke plants. At least we can say we did something that way…”
    I suppose it’s human nature to react this way but it’s still wrong.

    • greenthinker2012

      Well said!
      It is also the human nature of some in a situation where 100’s of thousands have died, to add to the misery and stress by spreading unwarranted fear about radiation.
      It is truly despicable how low some people will go in their
      pursuit of their ideology.

  • Chopra TP

    In US it is uneconomical because Coal is cheap, abundant and well established. There mines are very efficient because they are privately run and transportation through rail and waterways is smooth. Same with Canada and Australia. Europe and Japan are moving away from nuclear power more for political reasons and the public’s hyper sensitivity and aversion to anything Nuclear. There are many new innovative technologies and designs that can make nuclear very safe without spending a fortune. And given the electricity shortages in India I think Nuclear’s stability as a base load source is needed as a part of the mix.