Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the first edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR). For two decades the reports have punctured the lies of the nuclear industry. Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt wrote the 2012 edition and both contributed to the 1992 edition − congratulations Mycle and Antony!
The predictions made in WNISR-1992 stack up well. After a 20-year period of significant growth, the report correctly predicted that nuclear expansion would "slow to a trickle". From 1992 to 2012, worldwide nuclear power capacity increased from 326 gigawatts (GW) to 374 GW − a 15% increase in 20 years.
The nuclear industry is finally catching up with Mycle and Antony. The International Atomic Energy Agency's 'low' estimates have become a more reliable guide over the years, and the Agency's current 'low' estimate of 456 GW capacity in 2030 suggests very slow annual growth of around 1.5% (IAEA, 2012).
Nuclear power's proportional contribution to world electricity production will certainly decline. Nuclear's contribution peaked at 17% in 1993, fell to 12.3% in 2011, and the IAEA estimates just 4.7−6.2% in 2030 (IAEA, 2012, p.17).
By 2030, a majority of the world's reactors will be nearing the end of their operating lives and the nuclear industry will need to run just to stand still. The ageing of the reactor fleet also has important safety consequences. Reactors are most accident-prone in their early years (break-in phase, e.g. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island) and in their old age (wear-out phase, e.g. Fukushima Daiichi). This is known as the 'bathtub effect' as the risk curve declines after the early years of operation then increases as old age sets in.
WNISR-1992 notes the nuclear retreat in many countries in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. Little did the authors know that WNISR-2012 would document nuclear retreat in the aftermath of the only other INES Level 7 nuclear disaster, at Fukushima.
WNISR-1992 is sadly prescient about safety standards in Japan. It states: "Japan's nuclear industry does not have an accident-free logbook, nor has it been frank with the public about its mishaps. Extensive damage to a key pumping system and to the reactor core at the Fukushima plant in January 1989 was hidden from the public for a month, leading to a storm of criticism."
WNISR-1992 noted a major accident at Mihama-2 when a steam generator tube ruptured, leading to the first use in Japan of a reactor's emergency cooling system. In 2004, five workers were killed and six injured after a pipe rupture and steam leak at Mihama-3; it was later revealed that the failed pipe had not once been checked since the plant went into operation in 1976.
WNISR-1992 mentions industry propaganda about the next generation of "passively safe" reactors. "None has advanced beyond the level of early engineering studies," the report states, and "several designs are competing, which means that no individual design is receiving sufficient support for the engineering to progress rapidly." Fast forward to 2009 and World Nuclear News noted that "progress is seen as slow, and several potential designs have been undergoing evaluation on paper for many years" (WNN, 2009).
WNISR-1992 notes that the French government was considering closing the Superphenix fast breeder reactor. The accident-prone reactor failed spectacularly to meet its promised performance levels and was permanently shut down in 1998. It reminds us that when the industry talks about a new generation of safe reactors, they're often talking about an old generation of unsafe reactors.
WNISR-1992 notes that opinion polls in most countries found majorities opposed to the construction of new reactors. No change there. A 2011 survey of nearly 19,000 people in 24 countries found that 31% of respondents supported construction of new reactors compared to 69% opposed (IPSOS, 2011). Only in Poland was there majority support (52:48).
A 2005 IAEA-commissioned survey of 18 countries found that only in South Korea was there majority support for new reactors (Globescan, 2005). No more. South Korea's nuclear industry has been hit by a series of accidents and scandals including bribery, corruption and cover-ups, and the proportion of South Koreans who consider nuclear power safe fell from 71% in 2010 to 35% in 2012 (Reuters, 2013). The 2011 IPSOS survey found 68% opposition to new reactors in South Korea.
WNISR-1992 quoted Forbes describing the nuclear industry as "the largest managerial disaster in US business history". Twenty years later, just-retired Exelon CEO John Rowe said new reactors "won't become economically viable for the foreseeable future" in the US while General Electric's CEO Jeffrey Immelt said it is "hard to justify nuclear, really hard." Plus ca change ... or as the French would say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
WNISR-1992 noted that the British government "lied to itself as well as the British public about the economics of the nuclear industry. Costs turned out to be about double what the government had claimed." Echoes of broken promises in recent years not to subsidise new reactors in the UK. The Guardian reported on February 18 that the UK government is now proposing to guarantee subsidies to nuclear utilities for up to 40 years (Jowit, 2013).
WNISR-1992 noted that efforts to revive Iran's nuclear power program were thwarted by repeated bombings of the Bushehr reactor site by Iraqi aircraft. Echoes of ongoing concerns about Iran's nuclear program and the possibility of Israeli military strikes.
WNISR-1992 noted that "not a single country has near-term plans to dispose of high-level waste." The same can be said today. The report said that plans for a high-level waste burial site in the U.S. by 1985 were moved back to 1989, then 1998, then 2003, then 2010. It accurately predicted that the 2010 timeframe for an operational repository at Yucca Mountain was unrealistic given the technical questions and vehement opposition. The Yucca Mountain plan was abandoned by the Obama administration in 2009, and plans for an interim store in Utah have also been abandoned. World Nuclear News reported in January that the U.S. is "at an historic low in its plans to manage used reactor fuel." (WNN, 2013)
Anything at all in WNISR-1992 that hasn't stood the test of time? Just one thing − the report crunches some numbers based on the assumption that the average lifespan for power reactors would be 25−30 years. That assumption was replaced by a 40-year assumption in later versions of the report. Even the 40-year assumption was looking a little shaky prior to Fukushima; less so now.
World Nuclear Industry Status Reports are posted at www.worldnuclearreport.org
Globescan, 2005, ‘Global Public Opinion on Nuclear Issues and the IAEA: Final report from 18 countries’, prepared for the IAEA, www.iaea.org/Publications/Reports/gponi_report2005.pdf
IAEA, 2012, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050', www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/IAEA-RDS-1-32_web.pdf
IPSOS, June 2011, 'Global Citizen Reaction to the Fukushima Nuclear Plant Disaster', www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/ipsos-global-advisor-nuclear-power-june-2011.pdf
Jowit, Juliette, 18 Feb 2013, 'Nuclear power: ministers offer reactor deal until 2050', The Guardian, www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/18/nuclear-power-ministers-reactor
Reuters, 7 Jan 2013, 'South Korea to expand nuclear energy despite growing safety fears', www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/08/us-nuclear-korea-idUSBRE90704D20130108
WNN − World Nuclear Association, 2009, 'Fast moves? Not exactly...', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN_France_puts_into_future_nuclear_1512091.html
WNN − World Nuclear News, 4 Jan 2013, 'Cancellation leaves no options for US waste', www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR_Cancellation_leaves_few_options_for_US_waste_0401131.html
Source and contact: Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia. jim.green[@]foe.org.au