This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

Post

2021 – The year the nuclear energy narrative started to change

Milton Caplan's picture
President MZConsulting Inc.

Milt has more than 40years experience in the nuclear industry advising utilities, governments and companies on new build nuclear projects and investments in uranium.

  • Member since 2018
  • 97 items added with 129,322 views
  • Dec 29, 2021
  • 1161 views

This past year, as COP26 came and went, and the climate discussion turned from emission reductions to net zero targets; more and more governments have come to accept that nuclear power should, and in fact must, play an important role in meeting their aggressive climate goals. 

China is leading the way with plans to build 150 new units over the next 15 years.  Other countries with plans for new nuclear include Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Slovenia, Romania, the UK and the Netherlands, just to name a few.  In France, President Macron has stated “We are going, for the first time in decades, to relaunch the construction of nuclear reactors in our country and continue to develop renewable energies.”  The US, the UK and Canada are leading the way in the development and deployment of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).  And Belarus and the UAE started up their first nuclear plants this year becoming the newest members of the nuclear family.

Source: pexels.com

We have reliable assessments this year that make the environmental benefits of nuclear power unambiguously clear from a range of multilateral global organizations.

  • In March 2021 the European Joint Research Centre (JRC) issued its report on whether nuclear meets the EU Taxonomy requirements and stated  – “there is no science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production technologies already included in the EU Taxonomy as activities supporting climate change mitigation “.
  • An October 2021 study (Life Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Options) from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) looking at a broad range of energy technologies concluded that nuclear technology has the lowest lifecycle carbon intensity of any electricity source, ranging from 5.1-6.4g CO2 per kWh.  It also found nuclear has the lowest lifecycle land use, as well as the lowest lifecycle mineral and metal requirements of all the clean technologies. 

Given the evidence supporting nuclear as an environmental champion, why is it such a struggle for people to think about nuclear power in a positive way?  I was listening to one of the great podcasts from Dr. Chris Kiefer (Decouple podcast), (who also went above and beyond in his efforts at COP26) where he spoke to Angelique Oung earlier this year, an energy reporter and supporter of nuclear energy from Taiwan.  She said it best when she said, “Before I started reporting on this issue, it (being against nuclear) is just the default position in our society.  I never thought that much about it, it was just nuclear is scary, nuclear bad, nuclear old fashion, nuclear is expensive – never had reason to challenge those beliefs.” 

And there is the challenge.  We have discussed this before.  There is a narrative of fear that goes along with nuclear energy that is part of our collective psyche.  Almost every article on nuclear energy, including the supportive ones include something like “The spectre of Chernobyl and Fukushima, along with the enduring problem of nuclear waste, kept energy generated by splitting atoms on the sidelines, even if that energy was virtually carbon free.”; or ”Nuclear power can go horribly wrong and is notorious for cost overruns, but it is gaining high-profile champions.” 

Nothing demonstrates this point more than when the Director General of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, was being interviewed at COP26 and was explaining the benefits of nuclear energy.  He mentioned that nobody died from radiation at the Fukushima accident in Japan – and some in the audience responded with laughter.  Grossi replied “I don’t know why you’re laughing, it’s a fact. Thousands of people died because of the tsunami but there were no deaths attributable to exposure to radiation. People died also because of the evacuation, it was very traumatic,” he continued. “We’re taking this very seriously. This is not a laughable matter.”

And then something unexpected happened.  Following the interview, journalist Gillian Tett decided to do her homework and learn more.  As she stated, “For me, the incident acted as a (somewhat uncomfortable) reminder of the need for all of us, journalists most certainly included, to periodically question our own assumptions.” What she was found was published in an article in the Financial TimesWhat I got wrong about nuclear power – A debate with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency challenged my preconceptions.”  This reassessment led her to conclude “With my preconceptions about the radiation impact in Fukushima shifting, I am now doubly convinced it is time to have a wider debate about nuclear power.” 

Going back to the critical comment made by Angelique, she “never had reason to challenge those beliefs.”  Until now.  The challenge of achieving net zero carbon emissions is massive and requires new thinking.  Young people are more focused on climate issues than any generation before them.  They are ready to question the entrenched beliefs of others and make up their own minds about how to solve this climate crisis.  For many, being willing to take a fresh look at the nuclear option was the first step on the journey to changing their minds about this technology.  As this support continues to grow, governments are becoming more willing to include nuclear in their climate plans than ever before.  Who knows?  2022 may well be the year that realistic comprehensive climate plans including all low carbon technologies start to show a truly viable path to a decarbonized world.

Thank you for reading our blog.  Wishing you all a very happy holidays and looking forward to more discussion in 2022.

Milton Caplan's picture
Thank Milton for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member
Discussions
Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 29, 2021

I wonder how much impact the first commercial deployment of SMRs will help when it happens-- it feels like that can be the true pivot point where promise turns to action and convinces wider populations of their possibility and what that means for carbon-free power on the grid

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Dec 29, 2021

SMRs will be a drop in the bucket. If there are 3 GW of SMRs running at full commercial operation outside China by 2033 it will be a miracle. Belgium alone is planning to shut 5.9 GW of large nuclear plants by then.

So by 2035 even if SMRs were a raging success it is unlikely that nuclear power output will be much above current levels. At current growth rates by 2033, new solar will be over 1,000 GW/y and new wind about 300 GW adding about 3,100 TWh/y to the worlds supply. At that level just the additional wind and solar for one year is more than all the current production from nuclear power 2,700 TWh/y

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Dec 29, 2021

In Taiwan, Korea, China, the UK and possibly India and and remote outposts in the Arctic nuclear may have a useful future, but even there supplying more than 25% of total energy is unlikely because the economics are just terrible and getting relatively worse as wind/solar/flexible demand and storage all continue to fall in price.

The nuclear industry has never achieved the prices it proposed and even in the heyday in the 1980's cost and schedule overruns were the norm. The much vaunted Barakah plant is 4 years late, Similarly none of the SMR programs is remotely on track on either cost or schedule. in 2014 Nuscale was going to be generating by 2025 oops. Rolls Royce and the Chinese ACP100 are just smaller versions of existing PWR technology and not remotely Small or Modular.

In the extremely unlikely event that all of Britain's proposed new nuclear plants get built, they will still only match nuclear output from 2016 and produce about half the output of the expected 40GW of offshore wind. In the rest of Europe and the America's closures are proceeding faster than openings

This year worldwide production from wind and solar will exceed nuclear output while net installations of wind and solar will be around 180 GW vs less than 2 GW net of nuclear. Next year solar installations are forecast over 200 GW and wind 70 GW. Even allowing for capacity factors the increase in wind and solar generation will be 15-20 times the increase in nuclear output.

 In summary while I am all for keeping existing nuclear plants on line, the nuclear industry continues to suckle from the public teat and will provide little practical value in decarbonising the energy system

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 29, 2021

"the economics [of nuclear energy] are just terrible and getting relatively worse..."

Wrong. As of September 2021:

"• Nuclear power is cost competitive with other forms of electricity generation, except where there is direct access to low-cost fossil fuels.
• Fuel costs for nuclear plants are a minor proportion of total generating costs, though capital costs are greater than those for coal-fired plants and much greater than those for gas-fired plants.
• System costs for nuclear power (as well as coal and gas-fired generation) are very much lower than for intermittent renewables.
• Providing incentives for long-term, high-capital investment in deregulated markets driven by short-term price signals presents a challenge in securing a diversified and reliable electricity supply system.
• In assessing the economics of nuclear power, decommissioning and waste disposal costs are fully taken into account.
• Nuclear power plant construction is typical of large infrastructure projects around the world, whose costs and delivery challenges tend to be under-estimated."

Economics of Nuclear Power

"....wind/solar/flexible demand and storage all continue to fall in price."

Love how renewables advocates re-frame unreliable supply as "flexible demand": 

"I was counting on electricity to be able to wash my clothes tonight, but the wind stopped blowing. Hope my co-workers are flexible with my odor tomorrow!"

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Dec 31, 2021

Love how these nuclear advocates ignore the struggles of France, Belgium and Switzerland where at various times over the last 5 years, large fractions of nuclear capacity have been offline France 35%, Belgium 40% and Switzerland 100% of nuclear have been offline for up to a week, whereas the most reliable grid in the world is Denmark and the second most reliable is Germany.

 

The cost of generation is not the retail price it is the wholesale price and Germany has lower wholesale prices than France. Similarly in Australia SA has the lowest wholesale prices and the state with the most 'Baseload" power Queensland has the highest wholesale power prices. 

Flexible demand and storage otherwise known as off-peak power prices and pumped hydro were invented to balance inflexible coal and nuclear. They will just be applied differently but it is now economical to expand the use to homes, EVs etc .

The US offered very generous incentives US$18/MWh post tax, free water - a typical nuclear reactor uses as much as a town of 150,000 people - , free long term storage, indemnity against external damage caused by nuclear accidents above $400,000, subsidised fuel, construction loan guarantees which would reduce construction costs by 5-10% and yet of the 23 reactors proposed under the Obama administration, just two are being built. In the meantime since 2012 wind and solar output have gone from 20% of nuclear output to 80% 

The UK government has offered to pay up to 1/3rd of the construction cost of new nuclear plants and guarantee a price 30% above the long run price of electricity and almost double the price of privately owned offshore wind yet there are no contracts signed beyond Hinckley Point. Again in 2012 nuclear in the UK produced 5 times as much as wind and solar, in 2021 wind and solar produced 37% more energy than nuclear.

In Germany wind and solar combined produced less than 70% of nuclear output in 2012. This year not only did wind and solar produce 165TWh vs 60 TWh for nuclear but more energy than nuclear's best year ever 

In spite of Macron's and the French public's support France will end this decade with less nuclear than it started, but it will have enough wind, solar and hydro to supply almost as much energy as its nuclear plants

If nuclear is so good why are plants outside China closing faster than opening. Even China is expanding production from wind and solar faster than Nuclear. in the 12 months to November wind and solar produced 80% more energy than nuclear. Next year it is expected that wind and solar installations will exceed 150 GW nuclear 2-5 GW.

How many more false dawns of the nuclear renaissance will we have to endure

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 1, 2022

Still no links, Peter? In multiple instances I've refuted your talking points again, and again, to no avail. Without references your anti-nuclear tirades, growing longer by the day, add nothing of value to EnergyCentral.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Jan 4, 2022

Bob 

I am sorry Google doesn't work for you. Just look at the historical data in these links, you might have to tab through to a few other pages to get an understanding of the transition. Just as you fail to understand AEMO data you might find this difficult to comprehend but try.

1. National Data (stats.gov.cn) look under energy and there are various tabs for nuclear wind solar gas hydro etc.

2. 2021 Q3 Electricity & other energy statistics | China Energy Portal | 中国能源门户 China different format and you have to tab back through historical data

3. Electricity since 2012 - MyGridGB UK Drax Electric Insights alternative

4. Electric Power Monthly - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) lots of tables to sort through

5. Bar Charts Electricity Generation | Energy-Charts Germany, many other tabs on Price exports etc

6. Europe Energy Crisis: France Faces Power Cuts in Case of a Cold Snap, Grid Says - Bloomberg

There are other pages for Spain RED Electrica and RTE France which need a bit of research but they are all pointing in the same direction.  For example in December 2012, Average nuclear output in France was 49 GW, 2021 40.8 GW, wind 4.7 GW 2021 6.2 GW.   Exports fell from an average of 4.7 GW in 2012 to net zero in 2021. In December 2021 Imports in France have peaked over 12 GW at  8:00 on December 21 almost 17% of total demand. ( Source RTe and imports exceeded imports for the month

You have rarely effectively refuted my talking points. You keep claiming renewable grids are unreliable, yet SA and Germany respectively show they are not. You keep claiming nuclear is cheap yet even in the UK and China with very favorable pronuclear policies the output from wind and solar and investment is rising much faster than nuclear and you fail to explain why wholesale power is cheaper in Germany than France. Retail is different because in France the government subsidises nuclear power to minimise fossil fuel imports. In Germany government does the almost the opposite and heavily taxes electricity to minimise its use

Take your time to explore the UK, German, Chinese and American stats.  The facts are that nuclear is losing market share and outside China the number of new orders is falling.

The countries that are increasing nuclear power are wait for it, Belarus, Turkey and Egypt. The countries that are increasing renewable share start with China, US, Japan, Germany, UK, Italy Spain, Canada 

 

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 4, 2022

"I am sorry Google doesn't work for you."

Peter, I'm sorry you don't understand fundamental principles of academic scholarship and debate. It's your responsibility to provide support for your arguments, not mine; it's your responsibility to provide specific references, and not:

"look under energy and there are various tabs for nuclear wind solar gas hydro etc."

Really? This is the reference of a charlatan, one who has no support for his argument, who believes he might lure his reader to searching through pages and pages of some website until he capitulates due to...sheer fatigue?

 

I've already spent too much time educating you on a subject American children learn before they graduate from elementary school. Here's a primer:

 

Ten simple rules for responsible referencing

 

Best of luck!

 

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Jan 5, 2022

I gave you the links, some of the websites allow you to link to a specific view, others only to a top page. You are too afraid to read them in case they challenge your anachronistic views.

Go and have a look at the Rte site for real time French supply.Eco2mix – Power generation by energy source | RTE (rte-france.com)  In December it imported up to 12 GW, on January 6 this year imports ranged from 0 to 5,400 MW, nuclear output ranged from 44,700MW to 46,700 MW. and peak exports 3,200 MW. 

Go back to the same day 10 years ago, no imports, peak exports 8,500 MW, Nuclear from 51,000 MW to 58,300 MW. Given that power prices in France Eco2mix – Electricity market & track stock exchange data | RTE (rte-france.com) ranged from E80 to E260 why weren't these fabulous reliable nuclear plants running flat out.

Calling me a charlatan when you don't provide any data at all, what a sad joke you really are  

Vladimir Vinogradov's picture
Vladimir Vinogradov on Jan 10, 2022

Milton you are right. See here

Gene Nelson's picture
Gene Nelson on Jan 29, 2022

As an independent nonprofit NGO, Californians for Green Nuclear Power, Inc. (CGNP dot org) we are interested in answering the question, "Who will profit if Diablo Canyon closes?"  Our research indicates that the major beneficiaries are fossil fuel interests, Including Berkshire Hathaway Energy via its PacifiCorp subsidiary.  They have been collaborating with the California executive branch in a scheme to substitute emission-laden (air and water pollution)  Wyoming  coal - fired generation for 36 terawatt-hours per year of zero-emission California nuclear power from San Onofre and Diablo Canyon.  Our NGO's challenge is disseminating this information.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Feb 2, 2022

Gene

Although I think new nuclear energy can make little contribution to the energy transition in most countries, I strongly believe existing nuclear plants should run as long as they are safe. In places like the UK and Korea, they may even need new capacity, but it comes at a huge cost which will mean that they will lose most of their heavy industry to places where renewables are cheap like Brazil, Russia, Canada, Australia, China and the US. Further the cost of energy will weigh on their whole economy so that for example consumers in a nuclear-powered Britain will have annual energy costs about three times the cost of renewably powered Australia, Russia, Canada or Brazil  

The full cost of power from new nuclear plants is in the order of US$120/MWh and that is after subsidies for fuel and cooling water and backup with gas, coal, and hydro. Despite the promises of SMRs since the 80's they have yet to prove remotely economical. They still need backup for peak demand, refueling and outages as well as storage when demand is low. 

In fact it can be argued that the optimum nuclear/storage mix has at least as much energy storage capacity as the optimum renewable/storage mix although the renewable storage mix may need higher peak storage power. 

Gas and hydro can equally back up wind and solar plants which produce unsubsidized energy for about US$35~50/MWh, but in the end most of the backup will come from excess capacity just like it does now. The US has something more than 900 GW of dispatchable capacity to ensure it can meet about 630 GW of peak demand and 450 GW of average demand. If it had enough wind and solar to produce an average of 650 GW and ran its hydro more flexibly there would be very few days where more than an average of 100 GW of backup would be required. Most of that will come from existing hydro, biomass, solar thermal, geothermal, waste to energy, perhaps even renewable hydrogen made during periods of zero energy prices. etc. At the peak 2~3 hour period the last 100~150 GW will come from new storage, pumped hydro, vehicle batteries, ice, hot water and finally grid batteries. However, it is unlikely that the US will ever need more than the equivalent of 48 hours of new energy storage.  

Gene Nelson's picture
Gene Nelson on Jan 29, 2022

I request that Energy Central revise their commenting system so that parties who continue to raise misleading claims can be rebutted. The system appears to only allow a small number of rebuttals until further responses are impossible.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 1, 2022

Thanks for the feedback. Too many nested comments become hard/impossible to read (since each nested comment is narrower than the previous). Users can comment on the previous comment in the nesting, and those participants in the conversation will still receive email notifications of new comments in the discussion, thus making sure the conversation can continue.

Thanks again!

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »