Saturday, October 22, 2011

Is the nuclear renaissance over?

Critics of nuclear power often back their arguments with rhetorical flourishes, but frequently seem to misunderstand or misrepresent the facts they assert. A well known energy expert put in a guest appearance on Rod Adams' Atomic Insights blog this week. The expert, a long time critic of nuclear energy, offered a blog post long analysis of the market problems of the reactor industry. The basis argument is not new, and indeed it is full of ambiguities.
Nuclear power continues to die of an incurable attack of market forces. A huge and capable propaganda campaign by the industry and its political allies is spinning an illusion of a renaissance that deceives credulous journalists but not hard-nosed investors.
The World Nuclear Association has kept track of new reactor construction, planning and development since January 2007. This information is backed by country by country WNA reports on the development of local nuclear industries. If our nuclear critic is correct, we should find evidence of market declines over the last 5 years in WNA reports.

In fact, globally in the post Fukushima era, planning for and construction of power reactors continues. According to the World Nuclear Association there are currently 432 operational power generating reactors in the world. This number reflects a decline of 11 in the number of currently operational reactors world wide since the Fukushima accident in March 2011. However the number of reactors under construction or on order or planned has not declined since the Fukushima accidents in March of this year. In addition the number of reactors under consideration has actually risen from 324 in March, 2011 to 357 in the October 20, 2011 report.

Most of the global decline in reactor numbers occurred in a few countries. Germany had 17 operational reactors in March of 2011 while Japan reportedly had something like 55 operational reactors. This month Germany is credited by the WNA with 9 operational reactors while Japan is credited with 51. In neither country was the reactor shutdown due to market forces. In Germany the cause of the reactor shutdown was political, while in Japan the cause of the shutdown was a natural disaster. The rise in the number of new reactors in the early phases of consideration since March, suggests that the market is still very interested in nuclear power.

Thus the stort term picture of the nuclear market does not support our expert's picture of a dying nuclear industry, but what of the longer term?

In addition there are 63 reactors under construction, and another 153 reactors in the planning stage. Construction of another 357 reactors is under consideration. These are facts. The number of reactors under currentlconstruction equals a little under 15% of the existing global reactor fleet , while the number of reactors in the planning stage is 35% of the global reactor fleet. These facts would point to exactly the opposite of what the nuclear power critic claims.

A five year perspective offers even stronger evidence that the nuclear market is flourishing. In its January 2007 report the WNA stated that 28 reactors were under construction and 64 reactors were being planned. Thus the number of reactors being built world wide increased by 225% over the last 5 years, while the number of reactors being planned increased from 64 to 153 an increase of 239%. The number of new reactors under consideration increased from the January 2007 figure of 158 with a capacity of 124 GWe to the October 2011 figure of 357 plants with a total capacity of 408 GWe. This represents an increase of capacity under consideration of 329%.

Are these figures spinn by the nuclear industry, intended to fool credulous journalists as our expert suggests? First I should note that I did not find these figures in a press release designed to prop up sagging investor confidence in a nuclear renaissance, they are intended to reflect the future markets of the Uranium mining industry, by offering a basis for estimating future uranium demand. Uranium mining companies make money by selling uranium, in order to make more money, they need to build more uranium mines. In order to make decisions about building new uranium mines, uranium mining companies need accurat information about future uranium demand. The WNA calls its reactor building estimates the World Nuclear Power Reactors & Uranium Requirements. The introductory paragraph to the nuclear power estimates states:
This table includes only those future reactors envisaged in specific plans and proposals and expected to be operating by 2030. Longer-range estimates based on national strategies, capabilities and needs may be found in the WNA Nuclear Century Outlook. The WNA country papers linked to this table cover both areas: near-term developments and the prospective long-term role for nuclear power in national energy policies.
Thus we have the WNA building country by country pictures of anticipated world wide nuclear industry developments over the next 20 years. These research papers appear to be written by and for nuclear industry professionals. They are almost never read by journalists and certainly not read by anti-nuclear experts who are notorious for picking out only papers that are favorable to their cause to read.

The WNA is far more than being a propaganda organization as our critic of nuclear power claims. I would not deny that the WNA engages in propaganda exercises for the nuclear industry, but its propaganda is mainly intended to counter disinformation and misinformation from the foes of nuclear power. The WNA's primary propaganda method appears to be the accurate reporting of facts. In addition to its propaganda function, the WNA collects information that is primarily of interest to its members.

Confirmation of the validity of the WNA reports comes from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The latest IAEA report, published on October 15, 2011 states
Current status of the nuclear industry:

* 433 nuclear power reactors in operation with a total net installed capacity of 366.555 GW(e)
* 5 nuclear power reactors in long term shutdown
* 65 nuclear power reactors under construction
The claim that
Nuclear power continues to die of an incurable attack of market forces
appears to be at best very inaccurate, and at worst downright dishonest. The evidence points to the opposite. The number of nuclear power plants under construction has more than doubled during the last 5 years. The number of nuclear power plants on order or being planned has more than doubled, while the generation capacity of new nuclear plants under consideration has more than tripled. These numbers suggest that far from dying, the global nuclear industry is flourishing, and those who suggest otherwise are either poorly informed, deluded, or deliberately lying.


Anon said...

Of course there is still the question of how many of those planned reactors will actually end up being built (SMRs that can be built quickly and deployed for not much more than the cost of a gas turbine would really help here).

Part of the reason that the WNA can use facts is probably simply because they have the facts on their side and so don't have to resort to lying.

TerjeP said...

Thanks for this. My perception was that the industry was relatively stagnant but you have corrected that perception.


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