So the world has to move away from the burning of fossil fuels as a way of generating electricity.
Apart from the costs there are ethical arguments; the way nuclear power is used at present about 1% of the available energy in the uranium is used and the remaining 99% goes out with the waste. (The 235U is used, the great bulk of the uranium, most of the 238U is wasted; it could all be used.) Is this fair to future generations? Also, we use the energy and leave the waste for future generations to look after.
Nuclear power can be used to generate electricity, and there is no release of greenhouse gasses during the generation process, although mining, concentrating, and refining uranium, as it is done today, does consume large amounts of fossil fuels and produces corresponding amounts of greenhouse carbon dioxide. Nuclear power is not a substitute for the petroleum that is running out; it is not suitable for powering transport except for possible use in shipping.
If nuclear power was economically competitive, why do nuclear power stations have to be subsidised by tax-payers?If it was the cheapest option then we should be able to leave the building and running of new nuclear power stations to private enterprise. Of course it would have to be a whole package, part of the deal would be the locking away of appropriate sums of money for decommissioning of reactors at the end of their useful life and for the safe long-term storage or disposal of all radioactive materials. Disposal of radioactive waste, in particular, is difficult to cost because it must ensure that the material is kept out of the active environment for several thousand years or even more.
I strongly suspect that no company would be interested in taking full financial responsibility for the whole life of a nuclear power station and the waste; the amount of money that they would have to lock away would be too large and would make the whole operation economically unviable. If building and running nuclear power stations is economically unviable for private enterprise why should our governments take it on and we the tax payers foot the bills? Private industry is willing to build sustainable power generation facilities – wind, solar and geothermal – that are comparable in cost to fossil-fuelled power stations when the cost of pollution or the proper disposal of waste is taken into consideration.
Conserving energy and using electricity more efficiently is by far the best way that we can reduce our greenhouse impact.
What really is the attraction of nuclear power stations to Western nations? Is it that some people short-sightedly see nuclear as a real saviour, or are there hidden agendas? I must admit that I don't know the whole answer, but a part of the answer seems to be that while many people realise that fossil fuels have to be phased-out they simply don't like renewable energy; they see it as a do-gooder, greeny, leftist thing.
Wind and solar power are where the future of energy generation lie
A small part of Snowtown Wind Farm near my home in Mid-North South Australia
First I've just listed the disadvantages, then I've given fuller explanations of each
Explanations of the disadvantages of nuclear power
"In China, wind power is leaving nuclear behind. Electricity output from China's wind farms exceeded that from its nuclear plants for the first time in 2012, by a narrow margin. Then in 2013, wind pulled away-outdoing nuclear by 22 percent. The 135 terawatt-hours of Chinese wind-generated electricity in 2013 would be nearly enough to power New York State."This seems to be a demonstration that nuclear power is simply not an economically viable option any more, irrespective of its environmental questions and advantages or disadvantages.
In a report to the UK Parliament titled "The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s management of the Magnox contract" it was stated that:
"The cost of the long-term liability to decommission the UK’s civil nuclear sites now stands at £132 billion..."That's worth emphasising, £132 billion (Aus$236b, US$183b). It's an eye-watering amount, and it is only for decommissioning. And we all know that costs tend to increase as the job gets done.
The US Energy Information Administration produced a report on decommissioning titled 'Decommissioning nuclear reactors is a long-term and costly process' in November 2017. Quoting from that document:
"One of the most recently decommissioned reactors in the United States is the 619 megawatt (MW) Haddam Neck plant in central Connecticut, which was shut down in 1997 and decommissioned using the DECON method. Haddam Neck’s decommissioning was completed in 2007 at a total cost of $893 million."
Wikipedia, 2017/01/24, listed estimated decommissioning costs varying from US$153 million to US$514 million per reactor.
In the USA 'in-situ decommissioning', that is the entombment of nuclear power stations cost US$73 million for two reactors. Whether leaving the reactors in place indefinitely can truly be called 'decommissioning' is highly questionable.
Wikipedia stated that:
"In 2016 the European Commission assessed that European Union's nuclear decommissioning liabilities were seriously underfunded by about 118 billion euros, with only 150 billion euros of earmarked assets to cover 268 billion euros of expected decommissioning costs covering both dismantling of nuclear plants and storage of radioactive parts and waste."
The cleaning up of mines at the ends of their useful lives has historically been seriously underfunded; often leaving a large part of the costs to be covered by tax-payers. Can we have any confidence that the decommissioning of nuclear power stations will be properly funded?
Apparently the tsunami was a metre or so higher than the largest that was planned for! Why not allow a ten or twenty metre safety margin rather than a metre or so?
There seems to have been little planning for backup cooling in emergencies. How difficult can it be to plan for several alternative ways of getting a flow of cooling water into a power station?
No doubt it's easy to criticise from a distance.
What will it mean to the future of nuclear power?As I write this (2011/03/31) it seems very likely that the meltdown and nuclear contamination at Fukushima will strengthen the anti-nuclear lobby and make nuclear power more unpopular world-wide. The alternatives are:
an article in RenewEconomy –
The so-called "nuclear renaissance" in the United States has had another major setback, with another two nuclear reactors under construction in South Carolina abandoned after costs spiralled out of control, leaving consumers holding the bill for plants that will never be completed.Procon, 2017/08/04, reported:
"On Monday July 31, the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company announced that it was abandoning construction on two new nuclear power reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, SC due to cost overruns and delays in construction.
Thorium is more plentiful in the earth's crust than is uranium, but the naturally occurring thorium isotope is not fissile so it must be placed in a uranium powered reactor to change the non-fissile isotope to a fissile isotope before it can produce electricity.
Thorium fuelled nuclear power stations would suffer from a number of the problems of uranium fuelled stations: embrittlement, no recycling of materials, very high cost of decommissioning, etc.
A research paper written by Greg Baker for the Australian parliament in 2007-8 contained the following in its Executive Summary:
I gather that at the time of writing (June 2021) there are no power stations using thorium as the main fuel anywhere in the world. Quoting from Wikipedia:
"Between 1999 and 2021, the number of operational thorium reactors in the world has risen from zero, to a handful of research reactors, to commercial plans for producing full-scale thorium-based reactors for use as power plants on a national scale."
Thorium cannot at present be considered as a serious contender for producing a substantial part of the world's power demands.
Nuclear failures are numerous and hugely expensive
World growth in nuclear power has stalledIn an article for the PV Magazine written by Emiliano Bellini, and published 2021/09/28 it was pointed out that the "world’s operational nuclear capacity grew by just 400 MW [0.4 GW] in 2020, with generation falling by 4%." Bellini went on "By contrast, renewables grew by 256 GW and clean energy production rose by 13%."
Bellini was referring to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, published by French nuclear consultant Mycle Schneider. Bellini wrote "According to the report, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of solar PV dropped by approximately 90% over the past few years, while the LCOE of nuclear energy climbed by around 33%."
The Record-Breaking Failures of Nuclear PowerAn article for Counter Punch written by Linda Gunter and published 2021/09/24 was headlined The Record-Breaking Failures of Nuclear Power. Gunter started by writing that the Tennessee Valley Authority had taken 42 years to build and bring on line Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear power reactor in Tennessee. She went on: "Watts Bar 2 achieved criticality in May 2016, then promptly came off line due to a transformer fire three months later."
Gunter also wrote that "Now, almost five years later [than the Watts Bar story], TVA has announced it has abandoned its unfinished two-reactor Bellefonte nuclear plant in Alabama, a breathtaking 47 years after construction began."
The article went on:
"... of the 30 reactors the [US nuclear] industry planned to build 15 years ago with the so-called nuclear renaissance, only two are still being built. (Those two, at Plant Vogtle in Georgia, are years behind schedule with a budget that has more than doubled to $27 billion.)"
Wikipedia has an article on the Bellefonte nuclear plant.
And then, of course, there were the two part built nuclear power stations abandoned in South Carolina back in 2017, detailed in another section on this page.
"Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022. Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.
Those who are advocating nuclear power are often the same people who are opposing the further development of renewable power. My impression is that these people know that we have to reduce greenhouse emissions, but they have some sort of ideological disliking for renewable energy (for whatever reason), so they see nuclear as a way out of what would otherwise be a dilemma for them.
Those in the pro-nuclear lobby, not surprisingly, either are ignorant of, or not willing to address the questions of:
As if to demonstrate this fact, in January 2022 there was a proposal for the building of a number of small modular nuclear power stations in Australia, one of which would be near my home and all of which would be in highly populated areas.
I have discussed below why nuclear power is not needed in Australia, one of the main reasons being that we have huge and largely untapped renewable energy resources.
One of these would be on Point Grey about seven kilometres from my home in Erskine, a Mandurah suburb (near Halls Head in the photo on the right).
Others in the 'probables' group are proposed for Tamala Park, a northern Perth suburb, Kwinana, Harvey and apparently a couple near Collie.
Something that has intrigued me for several years is that no one in the pro-nuclear camp is willing to discuss what would result if nuclear power stations were targeted in time of war. A bombed out nuclear power station would result in a radius of quite a few kilometres being uninhabitable. Conventional bombs would do the job, nuclear bombs would not be needed. The amount of nuclear material in a bomb is measured in kilograms, that in a nuclear power station is measured in tonnes.
proposal mentioned above, or anywhere else) is not needed in Australia, it is unpopular, it is expensive and it is slow to build. Nuclear power stations are inflexible in the amount of power that they generate; as we move toward 100% renewable energy what we need to supplement that is power on demand - such as from batteries or pumped hydro energy storage.
In the graph the green is wind power and the yellow above the green is solar power; both, of course, renewable. The shades of orange are gas-fired power, the brown is coal-fired, and the purple on the bottom is imported power from the eastern states. SA's last coal-fired power station shut down in May 2016.
What SA has done, the other Australian states could also do. Western Australia has been slow to take up renewable energy but it seems that is changing. For example, news of a proposed 500 MW wind farm of the coast of Perth was published in WA Today on 2022/01/10 (the day before I wrote this section). Even the WA Liberals aim to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025
Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Are Mostly Bad Policy; an article written for CleanTechnica by Michael Barnard, 2021/05/03. Quoting from the CleanTechnica article:
Small modular reactors have been proposed for electricity generation for several years now, but very few have actually been built.
The following information was extracted from the Wikipedia article linked to above.
It was one of eight announced by the British government in 2010. As of October 2020, Hinkley is the only one of the eight designated sites to have commenced construction.(The above prices were apparently in 2012 pounds. £92.5=Aud$172. One pound = Aud$1.86. They apparently don't include the enormous costs of eventual decommissioning. From reading elsewhere on the Internet it seems that the £92.5 amount is the wholesale electricity price.)
The average price paid in South Australia to wind generators over the year 2021 was $43/MWh.
Hinkley Point C power station is taking 18 years to build; a wind farm can be built in 18 months. Power from Hinkley will cost Aud$172/MWh, the wholesale cost of South Australian wind power is $43/MWh.
External pagesNew Nuclear Power Plants Are Unlikely to Stop the Climate Crisis; Scientific American, by Naomi Oreskes, February 2022 Issue. Quoting from Ms Oreskes' article:
"These plants take too long to build and bring online, and we don’t have that much time"Ms Oreskes goes on to note that nuclear power is the most expensive form of electrical generation in the USA, more than twice the cost of fossil fuel generation. And as I have noted elsewhere, renewable electricty in the forms of wind and solar PV are cheaper than fossil fuel electricity, and getting cheaper all the time.
Is nuclear power globally scalable? By Derek Abbot, Fellow IEEE, School of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, S.A. 5005, Australia.
The short answer to the question is 'No'.
High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power Is Not an Option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix, DIW (German Institute for Economic Research) weekly report number 30, 2019.
Part built power stations abandoned August 2017: an article in RenewEconomy –
The so-called "nuclear renaissance" in the United States has had another major setback, with another two nuclear reactors under construction in South Carolina abandoned after costs spiralled out of control, leaving consumers holding the bill for plants that will never be completed.More on this development above on this page.
Failed nuclear power station converted to amusement park. "This failed $5.3 billion nuclear power plant in Germany is now an amusement park that gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year."
"The SNR-300 was supposed to be Germany's first fast breeder nuclear reactor when construction began in 1972. The reactor was made to use plutonium as fuel, and it would output 327 megawatts of energy. Built in Kalkar, the government had some concerns about the safety of the nuclear reactor, which delayed construction. The power plant was finished in 1985 — $5.3 billion later. But after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the SNR-300 never got a chance to fully operate, and by 1991 the project was officially canceled."
On this siteAustralia's energy future
Australia's proposed low-medium nuclear waste repository
On this page...
Advantages of nuclear power
Changing to responsible use of uranium
Disadvantages of nuclear power
Eleven proposed nuclear power stations, one of them near my home
Example case of nuclear power's economic unviability
Nuclear failures are numerous and hugely expensive
Nuclear power in Australia
Nuclear power is not needed in Australia
Olympic Dam Mine
Part built power stations abandoned
Pronunciation of nuclear
Reactors, small modular
Small modular reactors
Thorium instead of uranium?
USA turns away from nuclear
US utility dumps nuclear
Viable nuclear power
Which nations are getting out of nuclear power?
Wind and nuclear power in China