21 December 2012

The StarPhoenix (Canada): Wishful Thinking on Nuclear Power

Wishful thinking on nuclear power

By Dr. Dale Dewar, The StarPhoenix, December 21, 2012 2:02 AM

Dewar is executive director of the group Physicians for Global Survival.

In the article Cameco CEO bullish on nuclear future (SP, Nov. 30), Tim Gitzel presents a report of the nuclear industry that is very much at odds with the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012 and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

While Cameco’s chief executive is well paid to sell the industry, apparently being factual is unnecessary.

The authors of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report are not particularly friendly to the nuclear industry, but neither are they a bunch of rabid antinuclear environmentalists. They simply tell it like it is. The IAEA promotes and licenses the nuclear industry worldwide.

Gitzel says there will be 80 new nuclear reactors online in 2021. To make that a reality, there would need to be a lot more groundbreaking today. Of the 59 reactors currently listed as being under construction, nine have been on the list for more than 20 years, four for 10 years and, according to the IAEA, 43 are not yet close to an official startup date.

Some of Gitzel’s figures are wishful thinking. He says that four new plants are being built in the United States. In fact, there are no new plants being built south of the border. In addition to U.S. cancellations, Brazil, France and India have cancelled their new builds and the Netherlands may follow suit.

And China may want to have 26 under construction, but not a single construction site has yet been opened. Constructions in Bulgaria and Japan have been abandoned, and the Finnish Okiiluoto 3 site is so delayed and so far over-budget that it is in jeopardy.

The nuclear industry has been its own worst enemy.

An industry born in the secrecy of the Manhattan Project, building the nuclear bomb in the 1940s, it has continued to operate largely behind closed doors. Power plant construction has been highly government subsidized, consistently subjected to lengthy technical delays and always massively overbudget.

Adding to this litany of faults is the failure of the industry to convince any insurance agency to cover its liabilities in the case of an accident.

When things go wrong - as they did at Three Mile Island, Chornobyl and Fukushima - they go really wrong. The toll to human lives and the environment is astronomical, cleanup impossible, and financial costs beyond belief. The radiation that boils the water that creates the power is messy.

It gradually destroys pipes and containment vessels, and finally clogs up the fuel itself.

Seventy years of wishing (and trying) has not harnessed the atom or even come close. It cannot even be contained. Furthermore, nuclear power is like building an outhouse without putting a hole under it - there is no place for the waste to go.

Each previous accident resulted from entirely different sequences of human and technical failures. Accidents will continue to occur, especially as older plants are being refurbished. Costs are high. Builds and repairs, refurbishment and refuelling cannot be completed within - or even close to - estimated times, and accidents are devastating.

What’s to like about nuclear power?

Is it green, as a Dec. 7 editorial suggests? Those who promote nuclear as a rescue to global warming get mixed up about the proportion of the world’s energy that is actually provided by nuclear power. The fact is that nuclear power represents less than three per cent of the world’s total energy use. Increasing its share of electricity production would not make a dent in preventing climate warming.

Nuclear power accounts for only 11 per cent of the world’s total electrical production, down from its peak in 1995 of 17 per cent. At the current rate of new builds versus old power plants reaching their end dates, the IAEA estimates a 2040 share of 6.7 per cent.

Factor in the mining, transportation, carbon costs of construction, security, waste management and decommissioning all at the greatest cost of any source and nuclear power is only green at best when it is up and running at 90 per cent or better efficiency a figure rarely reached by most reactors.

The cost to our pocketbooks and to the environment is incredibly important. At a time when Saskatoon city council is trading off improved bicycle paths for fixing potholes in streets, doesn’t it make sense to invest in conservation and sustainable energy sources? © Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix