4 August 2015

Physics Today (US): Wall Street Journal: “A nuclear renaissance hasn’t materialized”

Wall Street Journal: “A nuclear renaissance hasn’t materialized”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sees renewables “surging” past nuclear in many countries.

Physics Today, 03 August 2015

Steven T. Corneliussen

A November 2014 Wall Street Journal news article asked whether the US government can “revive nuclear power.” Now the 28 July WSJ Business and Tech section front page, observing languishing nuclear construction, has offered an answer: probably not. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists agrees.

In November, the WSJ consulted industry experts about nuclear power’s future amid problems and disadvantages: newly abundant cheap natural gas, public perceptions since the tsunami-induced Fukushima nuclear disaster, the costs of new construction, the vexing problem of nuclear waste, and what one of the experts lamented as the absence of a “reasonable carbon policy [that] would positively influence the economics” of nuclear power.

The July piece began,

Building nuclear reactors out of factory-produced modules was supposed to make their construction swifter and cheaper, leading to a new boom in nuclear energy.

But two US sites where nuclear reactors are under construction have been hit with costly delays that have shaken faith in the new construction method and created problems concerning who will bear the added expense.

The article quoted Joseph “Buzz” Miller, executive vice president of nuclear development for Georgia Power, which is responsible for one of the two sites: “The promise of modular construction has yet to be seen.” It mentioned the problem of decay of industrial capabilities and skills for building nuclear plants. The final paragraph sums up the situation:

US utilities proposed building more than two dozen reactors five years ago before the shale-gas revolution drove down the price of natural gas and made plants that burn gas a more attractive option for the power industry. Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it was folding a division to manage construction of new reactors back into the division from which it was pulled a few years ago.

To make what’s implied explicit, the online version adds, “acknowledging a nuclear renaissance hasn’t materialized.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sees it the same way. Concerning the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015, it says:

This year’s report comes at a time when most energy and environmental experts shy away from the words “nuclear renaissance” but some view nuclear power as an indispensable substitute for fossil fuels in global efforts to combat climate change. Current trends, however, suggest that a rapid ramp-up of nuclear power is unlikely, and that renewable energy is surging past nuclear power in many countries.

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Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA’s history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.