Nuclear update: Gen III dies an early death

One of the more tenacious beliefs on the political right is that their support for nuclear power demonstrates superior rationality and openness to evidence. But the evidence is that, no matter what the structure of energy markets no one is willing to choose (new) nuclear power over any of the alternatives: gas, renewables and coal. That’s bad in the sense that the true costs of new and existing coal far exceed those of even new nuclear. But where those costs are factored in to decisions, it’s renewables (plus storage) that benefit.

Let’s look at the evidence. The World Nuclear Association currently lists “about 50” plants under construction, a number that’s been declining over time. A closer look reveals 47 plants, of which 23 are due to be completed this year or next (most are way behind schedule). The rest are due by 2026 reflecting the fact that hardly any have been started in recent years (a typical project takes 7-10 from initial construction to connection, if all goes well).

Adding in those modern (Gen III or III+) plants already in operation, the total contribution of modern nuclear to the world’s electricity generation capacity is likely to fall short of 100 GW, maybe equal to a couple of years of renewables (adjusted for differences in utilisation rates).

The only real hope is that of Small Modular Reactors, but even here the gap between claims and evidence is striking. Pro-nuclear advocates routinely write as if SMRs are an established solution, rather than a design that has so far not even reached the pilot plant stage.

If those on the political right would accept a market solution to decarbonizing electricity, including a carbon price and an option for SMRs, that would be a good deal for the environment. Sadly, there’s no sign of that happening. Rather, support for nuclear power is little more than an excuse for hippie-punching and intellectual self-congratulation.

7 thoughts on “Nuclear update: Gen III dies an early death

  1. Sign of the times – the biggest and most fine grained targetting megaphone in the universe, primotes”information warfare” and alsi climate change beating out nuclear war… ” climate inaction is “‘death sentence for humanity’” referenced by Union of Concerned Scientists…

    “They said the rise of “cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns” compounds both threats by keeping the public from insisting on progress.”

    “Doomsday clock lurches to 100 seconds to midnight – closest to catastrophe yet

    “Nuclear and climate threats create ‘profoundly unstable’ world Robinson: climate inaction is ‘death sentence for humanity’

    “The risk of civil collapse from nuclear weapons and the climate crisis is at a record high, according to US scientists and former officials, calling the current environment “profoundly unstable”.

    “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced its symbolic “doomsday clock” has moved forward to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest to catastrophe that the scientists have judged the world to be at any point since its creation in 1947, at the outset of the cold war.

    “The world needs to wake up. Our planet faces two simultaneous existential threats,” said Mary Robinson, …”

    “… said society has normalized a very dangerous world, and that “information warfare” is undermining “the public’s ability to sort out what’s true and what’s patently false”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/23/doomsday-clock-100-seconds-to-midnight-nuclear-climate

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