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Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #854 - 4 December 2017

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A dozen reasons for the economic failure of nuclear power

Mark Cooper, senior research fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, has summarized nuclear power's economic problems in an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

He lists a dozen factors and trends that are currently making nuclear power uneconomic in the US (and of course many of these issues apply elsewhere):

Supply-side factors:

1. Nuclear construction costs are escalating, driven by the complexity and demanding nature of the technology. This is especially true for a reactor design that is not yet operational; the first AP1000 will not go online until late this year or early next year, in China.

2. Low prices make natural gas more economically competitive than other forms of baseload power, namely nuclear and coal.

3. Alternatives such as wind and solar power are declining in cost, thanks to technological improvements that have cut costs by 50‒75% in a decade or two.

Demand-side factors:

4. Because of increasing efficiency, US demand for electricity is not growing as quickly as in the past.

5. Individuals and communities are increasingly able to supply their own energy with solar panels and batteries.

System integration factors:

6. Utilities have an increasing ability to manage and integrate demand and supply, due to advances in communications and advanced control technologies, which allows them to reliably generate an adequate amount of electricity even with a reduced reliance on baseload power.

7. Integrating, coordinating, and managing supply and demand transforms the nature of the grid and allows a reduction in total system size of 15‒20%. For example, a 2016 paper published by Jim Lazar, a senior adviser at the Regulatory Assistance Project, found that adding renewable energy resources ‒ while also implementing strategies to reduce peak electricity demand, and to deliver more output during afternoon high-load hours ‒ could increase the load factor for a typical southern California utility from 73.6% to 86.5%, an improvement equivalent to 17.5% of the original load factor.

8. Energy storage, an area that had been largely neglected, is experiencing rapid growth. Batteries powered by renewable energy sources now offer an affordable way to provide electricity during hours of peak demand.

Reactors do not age gracefully:

9. Aging reactors can no longer cover their costs in the new environment, because they need increasing maintenance, repair, and replacement of parts as they age. This is particularly challenging because of the complexity of the technology, and the availability of newer, lower-cost alternatives that are driving down prices in states with deregulated electricity markets.

10. Bad management causes the abandonment of aging reactors. In fact, several recent early retirements of reactors ‒ at the San Onofre and Crystal River nuclear plants ‒ were caused by botched efforts to repair reactors. This problem has plagued the industry throughout its existence.

11. Demands for subsidies throughout the nuclear lifecycle are a reminder of nuclear energy's inability to compete in a free market, and a focal point of current political struggles at the federal and state levels. Current subsidies are insufficient to make nuclear power, old or new, economically competitive in deregulated electricity markets. Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to change electricity pricing to boost compensation for nuclear and coal plants. Perry also recently announced that the Energy Department would provide $3.7 billion in loan guarantees (in addition to $8.3 billion granted earlier) to support ongoing construction of the two AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia.

12. Difficult, expensive, and lengthy cleanups after accidents ‒ such as the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan ‒ continue to remind people that nuclear technology can be very dangerous.

Mark Cooper, 17 Oct 2017, 'A dozen reasons for the economic failure of nuclear power', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,

Grappling with the bomb ‒ Britain's Pacific H-bomb tests

Grappling with the Bomb is a history of Britain's 1950s program to test the hydrogen bomb, code name Operation Grapple. In 1957–58, nine atmospheric nuclear tests were held at Malden Island and Christmas Island in the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony ‒ today, part of the Pacific nation of Kiribati.

Nearly 14,000 British troops travelled to the central Pacific for Operation Grapple. They were joined by hundreds of New Zealand sailors, Gilbertese labourers and Fijian troops. Today, decades later, survivors suffer from serious illnesses they attribute to exposure to hazardous levels of ionising radiation.

On the 60th anniversary of the tests, Grappling with the Bomb details regional opposition to Britain's testing program in the 1950s, with protests from Fiji, Cook Islands, Western Samoa, Japan and other nations.

Based on archival research and interviews with nuclear survivors, Nic Maclellan's book presents portraits of i-Kiribati woman Sui Kiritome, British pacifist Harold Steele, businessman James Burns, Fijian sailor Paul Ah Poy, English volunteers Mary and Billie Burgess and many other witnesses to Britain's nuclear folly.

The book can be ordered ‒ or downloaded for free ‒ at

Nic Maclellan, 'Grappling with the Bomb ‒ Britain's Pacific H-bomb tests', ANU Press, Canberra, 2017.

India: Former chair of regulatory board calls for freeze to nuclear power program

Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, a former Chair of India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, has written a 2500-word article calling for the country's nuclear power program to be suspended and re-evaluated. He notes that his views are based on many decades of experience and his intimate understanding of and participation in the Indian nuclear program.

He writes: "An overall evaluation of the status of the Indian civilian nuclear power sector, and the government's uncertain future plans, do cause a great deal of concern for the welfare of the country and the safety of our people. Therefore, it is best to freeze all plans for the further expansion of this sector until Parliament and the public are provided full details of the government's intentions and rationale and a national consensus is reached."

Dr. Gopalakrishnan criticizes the top-heavy mismanagement of the nuclear program: "The Indian civilian nuclear power program is ultimately administered by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) which reports to the Prime Minister. The detailed policies, programs, and projects of both the civilian and military aspects of atomic energy are overseen and approved by a supra-powerful body called the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). ... Once this group approves a program or gives a decision, no other entity like the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG), who should be overseeing financial propriety in the Central Government expenditure or the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) which is responsible for project & public safety, will usually dare to question the AEC decision. This top-heavy administration of the nuclear program and the fear that it exudes is at the heart of most of the ailments of the nuclear sector."

He raises concerns about the existing fleet of reactors: "Of the operating reactors, some are very old and partially disabled and others are of dangerously outdated design which DAE is continuing to operate, though recommended by the original supplier to be permanently closed down."

The Indian government claims that its decision to build more pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) "will be a major step toward strengthening India's credentials as a major nuclear manufacturing powerhouse". Dr. Gopalakrishnan responds: "But, with the whole world receding from setting up nuclear plants, by the time this "major powerhouse" is established in 4-6 years, where are the foreign orders for nuclear plant components going to come from? Or, are we planning to use tax-payers' money to continually prop up the ailing big manufacturing industries in India by giving them nuclear power orders, whether we want nuclear power or not?"

Dr. Gopalakrishnan questions safety standards and the adequacy of nuclear regulation: "The state of nuclear reactor safety in India today is suboptimal to say the least. The agency which should be overseeing nuclear safety in India, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), has no standing as an independent entity, no direct access to the AEC or to any of the Parliamentary committees. The Chairman of the AERB reports to the AEC Chairman, whose instructions finally dictate the AERB's actions. In contrast, the French nuclear regulatory body (the ASN) is created under a separate Act of the French Parliament and is answerable only to their Parliament. To summarise the state of nuclear safety in India and suggest possible corrective actions, an article in a journal will not suffice, it will require one whole book to be devoted to it."

A. Gopalakrishnan, 13 Nov 2017, 'India Should Halt Further Expansion of its Nuclear Power Program', The Citizen,