24 April 2015
Written by Scott Forward
This report is to bring an update from the World Uranium Symposium, happening in Quebec City from April 14-16th. The Symposium’s goal is to address issues arising from the nuclear fuel chain, mining of uranium and the byproducts of the production of uranium. The Symposium plays host to local, national, and international representatives from health, research, industry, education, civil society, policy makers, and indigenous peoples.
Uranium has become a popular topic of conversation in the North. With projects like Matoush Uranium so close to home, people are looking for answers about the industry, not just from a mining perspective, but also what the results from that mining will be. There is a myriad of information circulating about the benefits of uranium production - in particular, that it is a source of cheap/clean power that could play a role in solving energy problems. On the subject of power, the presenters had a number of interesting points to make.
World Nuclear Industry Status Report
The day opened with a presentation by Mycle Schneider, an international energy and nuclear policy consultant and member of the International Energy Advisory Counsel. Schneider’s presentation tells us that the nuclear power industry would have us believe that we are witnessing a rise to prominence of nuclear power. Their argument, that we are seeing a rise in the amount of reactor production. Nations (in particular China) are choosing nuclear power as the primary means of production, and that switch to nuclear power will be necessary to keep up with world power needs; they also argue that it is a clean form of energy.
Schneider warns though, with a closer look at data, this dialogue by the nuclear power industry doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Instead of a rise in production, we see that the production of reactors and new power plants peaked in the early 80’s and has since fallen off significantly. What about the rise in reactor production touted by the industry? It turns out, by beginning their measurements at a historical low in reactor production (2005), they are simply manipulating date ranges to make it appear as though there is a rise in reactor production. In reality, when accounting for the increase from 2005 in reactor production, we still have a net aging in the global infrastructure of nuclear power.
Far from a rise to prominence, the picture painted by the status report is that production of reactors is slowing; many construction projects are being cancelled or delayed indefinitely -some as long as 40 years. The result from this aging of nuclear power infrastructure is an escalation of costs. As Schneider points out, the 20 largest European utilities have lost over [half] a trillion dollars and that EDF, a large producer of nuclear energy in France, has seen stock values plunge by 70%.
The concern is, with the financial health of nuclear energy companies in disarray, where will the responsibility of maintaining these facilities lie? These facilities need large numbers of staff (which are often let go during tough financial times) in order to be maintained when integrity of structures becomes compromised. Is there a worry that, as costs continue to escalate and profits downturn, nuclear energy producers won’t be able to afford to keep their facilities safe? Should we be worried, as the global age of reactors continue to rise, that we are placing our trust in technology nearly three decades old?
The take home message of the presentation was simple: we are seeing a shift away from nuclear energy and probably traditional utilities in general. When we look to renewable modes of energy production, such as wind and solar, we aren’t seeing the chaotic fluctuations in cost in the maintenance of infrastructure, environmental impact, or the ability to produce energy. To listen to a full copy of the presentation, I invite you to listen to the link.