Nuclear power somehow always makes a loss

Aftermath of the Chernobyl accident: part of the nuclear accounting. Image: By Yves Alarie on Unsplash

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network