Canada’s Center for International Governance Innovation has come out with a rather pessimistic report on the likelihood of a nuclear renaissance in the near future.
(Pessimistic, that is, if you’re a proponent of nuclear energy.)
The authors say that on balance, an increase in the role for nuclear energy to 2030 is unlikely. Meanwhile new reactor additions will likely be offset by the retirement of older plants. The main reasons given are familiar to anyone who follows nuclear – too costly, too slow to build, and inadequate government support:
Globally, while the gross amount of nuclear-generated electricity may rise, the percentage of electricity contributed by nuclear power is likely to fall as other cheaper, more quickly deployed alternatives come online. An increase as high as a doubling of the existing reactor fleet as envisaged in some official scenarios seems especially implausible, given that it can take a decade of planning, regulatory processes, construction and testing before a reactor can produce electricity.
So what are those cheaper, more quickly deployed alternatives?
The economics are profoundly unfavourable and are getting worse. This will persist unless governments provide greater incentives, including subsidies for first entrants, and establish carbon prices high enough to offset the advantages of coal and to a lesser extent natural gas.
For more elucidation:
In addition, they make a point that is less often discussed in industry these days: one crisis is all it takes to change everything:
One more major nuclear accident, one more state that develops nuclear weapons under the guise of generating electricity, or one more 9/11 but with nuclear weapons this time, is one catastrophe too many.
Several possible new national entrants to the nuclear scene before 2030 are identified, but even they are not completely confident:
The most likely candidates appear to be Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, the UAE
and Vietnam, although some of these have envisaged acquiring nuclear reactors for decades and all face significant challenges in doing so now.
Meanwhile, all the great things about nuclear – new, smaller reactors for example – are likely to come to naught in the next 20 years: smaller reactor development is still nascent and won’t likely be widespread by 2030.
Interestingly for anyone following the UK’s energy dilemma, the authors point out that deregulation of electricity markets is a factor against nuclear plant construction – the only one currently being built in a deregulated market is Finland, which has of course already suffered some high-profile delays.
And there’s more: industrial supply bottlenecks, personnel constraints, and the problem of waste disposal are also reasons.
One of the few positive notes the report hits is extension of the life of existing reactors – in some cases, the authors point out, this has been quite profitable.
CIGI, an independent think-tank, set up a three-and-a-half year project on the subject.
Are the new nuclear power plants safe? (FT Energy Source)
Finland’s new nuclear reactor is being built, in spite of the problems (FT Energy Source)
When the free market fails energy (FT Energy Source)