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The Nuclear Industry Must Change, Or Die

Michael Shellenberger's picture

Michael Shellenberger is an award-winning author and environmental policy expert. For a quarter-century he has advocated solutions to lift all people out of poverty while lessening...

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  • Feb 24, 2017

"Brace for impact."


The looming insolvency of Toshiba has set off a chain reaction of events that threatens the existence of nuclear power in the West:

  • Britain’s plan to build six new nuclear plants in order to phase out coal by 2025 is now up in the air.
  • Britain’s turmoil creates uncertainty for the French and Chinese nuclear industries — as well as for another Japanese company, Hitachi — that had won contracts to build other British plants.
  • In response to Toshiba’s failings, one of India’s leading nuclear policy experts is calling for the government to scrap existing plans with Areva, Westinghouse and Russia’s Rosatom, and “Make Nuclear Indian Again” by scaling up the country’s indigenous design.
  • On Wednesday Mitsubishi’s CEO told the Financial Times that the company is not considering a merger with Toshiba. The reason? Toshiba’s nuclear design “is a totally different technology” from Mitsubishi’s.
  • A proposal by Southern Company to build a third nuclear plant based on Toshiba’s Westinghouse AP1000 design in Georgia is increasingly unlikely.

The Japanese and French governments will be compelled to act for economic reasons — their nuclear industries are too important to their economies to fail. The Japanese government has always played a strong role in shaping the direction of its industries, including nuclear, while the French nuclear industry is entirely government-controlled.

Even though it lacks its own nuclear industry, Britain is emerging as the strongest of the three nations because it has a significant number of planned nuclear plants that involve Japanese and French companies, and is a big player in a buyer’s market.

The new Conservative government of Theresa May has expressed more interest in industrial policy than prior Conservative governments, and has already begun talks with the Japanese government about the UK government coming in as an investor on two of its planned plants.

The question is whether anyone in the three governments will have the vision and strength to make the right choices. The right choices will be the most difficult ones because they will require standing up first to the nuclear industry and next to ideologues on the Left and the Right.

But crises bring opportunities and there are large ones for reformers within the industry and within governments to do what should have been done 40 years ago: standardize designs, reorganize and consolidate the industry, and implement a vision to scale up plants while bringing down costs.

But before doing any of that, policymakers and the public must understand why Toshiba and Areva failed.

Why Nuclear is Failing

1. Lack of Standardization and Scaling

“Everything you described in your article was true for nuclear plants built in the 1970s,” an industry veteran told me.

In my investigation, I described how Toshiba’s Westinghouse AP1000 design was radically new — it had never been tested and indeed wasn’t even complete before construction began.

And yet when it came time to build two of them in Georgia and South Carolina, all parties were afflicted with a kind of historical amnesia.

“No one involved seemed to fully appreciate just how difficult it would be to build new reactors, especially the AP1000 — a ‘first of a kind’ design,” reports the Financial Times.

It’s not unusual for big construction and manufacturing projects to go over time and budget.

Consider the San Francisco Bay Bridge. After an earthquake in 1989 caused part of it to collapse, California officials decided to replace the entire eastern span.

Construction started in 2002 and was supposed to cost $1.5 billion. The project was afflicted with challenges. In 2009, steel rods flew off the span and hit at least two cars. Faulty bolts were discovered. The problems delayed the opening by four years and cost $6.4 billion — four times more than what had been estimated.

Or consider the Boeing “Dreamliner” jet aircraft. The FOAK arrived three years late, in 2011. Immediately things went awry. Engines failed along with fuel pumps, computers and wings. Lithium batteries caught on fire. The problems were so bad that the Japanese government launched its own investigation.

Now consider that building a nuclear plant isn’t like building a bridge or a jet plane — it’s like building a bridge and a jet plane at the same time.

Except it’s not. It’s much harder than that.

The reason has to do with scale. Where Boeing is making 10 aircraft per month — allowing everyone involved to become more efficient and produce planes faster — it takes nuclear plant construction companies up to 10 years to build one plant.

Boeing knows the importance of standardization. The company is losing money on every Dreamliner it makes, and says it hopes to make money after selling 1,100 of them. Thus, when faced with a rash of problems in 2012, Boeing didn’t give up on the Dreamliner design — it fixed the problems.

The response from the nuclear industry to such problems would have been to invent yet another nuclear plant design complete with promises of greater safety and lower cost. And yet what makes nuclear plants safer and cheaper to build and operate is experience, not new designs.

What the constant switching of designs does is deprive the people who build, operate and regulate nuclear plants of the experience they need to become more efficient.

Why then does the industry keep doing it?

2. The War on Nuclear

To some extent, the 40-year obsession with innovative new designs is a consequence of an industry dominated by the engineers — the project architects — rather than by the construction firms.

But Boeing and Airbus are companies headed by engineers who don’t make the nuclear industry’s mistakes. Why?

The answer in part is that Boeing doesn’t have to deal with a powerful, $500 million annual lobby that does everything it can to deliberately make nuclear expensive.

NRDC, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, UCS, and myriad state and local groups have spent 50 years frightening the public with pseudo-science, suing utilities, subsidizing the competition, and winning regulations that do nothing for plant safety.

On the one hand, the nuclear industry responded brilliantly to these attacks. After the anti-nuclear movement landed a decisive blow against the industry in 1979, with the meltdown at Three Mile Island book-ended by the release of the hysterical film “China Syndrome” and “No Nukes” concerts, the industry got its act together.

Over the next 30 years the industry worked diligently to better train its workers and create a culture of safety that resulted in an extraordinary rise in plant efficiency from about 50 percent to over 90 percent today.

But the industry also responded by creating new and untested designs: Westinghouse’s AP1000 and Areva’s EPR.

The problem of serial design-switching is compounded by the vanishingly small number of nuclear plants being built. Just 60 plants total are currently under construction — most of different designs.

The Koreans, by contrast, prioritized efficient construction over innovative new designs, and are now leading the global competition to build new nuclear plants.

3. Too much focus on machines, too little on human beings

Areva, Toshiba-Westinghouse and others claimed their new designs would be safer and thus, at least eventually, cheaper, but there were always strong reasons to doubt such claims.

First, what is proven to make nuclear plants safer is experience, not new designs. Human factors swamp design.

The same is true of aircrafts. What made air travel safe was many decades of training and experience by pilots, air traffic controllers, and regulators — not radically different jet plane designs.

In fact, new designs risk depriving managers and workers of the experience they need to operate plants more safely, just as it deprives construction companies of the experience they need to build plants more rapidly.

While Boeing has touted the Dreamliner as a kind of breakthrough, it was an incremental improvement on the same jet planes we’ve been flying on since the 1950s, and did little to change the procedures of pilots and flight attendants.

To be sure, continuous improvement of jet plane technologies has contributed to making flying safer than ever.

But the key factors were executive-level commitment to risk reduction, a company-wide safety culture, better emergency trainings, inspections and accident investigations.

Second, how do you make a technology that almost never harms anybody any safer than it already is?

Fossil fuels operating normally kill far more people than nuclear plants do when they malfunction.

And given such tiny health impacts, it’s simply not clear that making plants any safer is actually possible. Long time horizons and small sample sizes will likely make it impossible to ever know — scientifically — that newer plant designs are safer.

Advocates of new designs, including the EPR and AP1000, will acknowledge this point, but point to their enhanced safety, such as the EPR’s double containment dome, the AP1000’s back-up water system, or meltdown-proof fuel-coolant mixtures.

But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already ruled that all new nuclear plants will be subject to the Aircraft Rule.

And containment domes are not as large of an expense as is sometimes suggested. A 2012 Black and Veatch study estimated that for the AP1000 the reactor island was just 13 percent of total plant costs. And the reactor island’s actual share of costs would be lower given the $10 billion in cost overruns of the two US AP1000s.

The key takeaway from the Toshiba and Areva debacles is that the cost overruns due to construction delays from building a highly regulated FOAK nuclear plant swamp any savings from modestly smaller amounts of necessary equipment.

Finally, the overwhelming amount of harm caused by accidents are due to fear and panic, not radiation exposure.

What made Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima the three worst nuclear accidents wasn’t the radiation released. The fire at an innovative gas-cooled reactor in Windscale, England, in 1957, and the partial meltdown of a sodium-cooled reactor near Detroit in 1966, were both far worse than Three Mile Island.

What made the more famous accidents harmful was how local and federal governments panicked and triggered dangerous over-evacuations. What they should have done was told local residents to simply “shelter in place” — as is done for things like tornadoes — until the accident was dealt with.

Contrast that to the handling of jet plane accidents.

Passengers on Sully's flight brace for impact by sheltering in place.


In the recent film “Sully,” based on a real event, an Airbus 320 loses both of its engines to bird strikes in just five minutes. With all power gone, the pilot has seconds to act. Can he make it back to La Guardia airport in New York? Or should he attempt a water landing in the Hudson river?

Captain Sully chooses the latter. He tersely announces, “Brace for impact,” at which point the flight attendants in unison begin a kind of creepy, hypnotic chant: “Brace! Brace! Heads down! Stay down! Brace! Brace!…”

The passengers comply. They are frightened, and some scream, but they stay seated. They tuck their heads and some put hands on the seat in front of them. In other words, they shelter in place.

And everyone survives.

How to Save Nuclear

1. Consolidate or Die

Only two companies make large-bodied jet planes: Boeing and Airbus.

Large, complicated projects like building a jet plane or a nuclear plant require very large, upfront investments that only large, well-capitalized entities can back — like an electric utility, or Boeing, which invested $32 billion making the Dreamliner.

If nuclear is going to survive in the West, it needs a single, large firm — the equivalent of a Boeing or Airbus — to compete against the Koreans, Chinese and Russians.

There will never be as many nuclear plants as jet planes, especially not during a time of low overall demand for electricity. As such, economies of scale must be achieved more rapidly.

One of the keys is making both construction and operation as efficient as possible.

Many of the big global nuclear players offer to build and operate the plants. That’s what the Korean company, KEPCO,  has done in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The four-reactor nuclear plant KEPCO is building in the UAE is on-time and appears to be on-budget. In January, the UAE awarded KEPCIO with a 60-year, near-$50 billion contract to operate and maintain the plants it built.

I was told by someone in the industry that KEPCO treated the construction part of the work as a loss-leader in order to get the more lucrative operation, maintenance and refueling contract — and perhaps to advertise its construction prowess to other nations.

The Airbus of nuclear should be run by someone with significant experience in nuclear plant construction — since that’s where the cost savings (and overruns) come from — not engineering.

To some extent, consolidation is already happening. In 2006, Toshiba bought Westinghouse and Mitsubishi partnered with Areva, while in 2007, Hitachi partnered with the GE nuclear division.

Toshiba recently bought the construction firm hired to build the AP-1000 Vogtle plant, but with the latter deal, the consolidation came too late. It was done in response to, not in anticipation of, future construction and manufacturing delays.

Of course, consolidation on its own is not enough, as Areva learned. There must also be standardization, scaling and social acceptance. Consolidation is essential to achieve the repetitions required for cost reductions. And a planned scaling-up of nuclear is the key to achieving those repetitions.

2. Standardize or Die

First, the new Boeing or Airbus of nuclear should build a single design. Standard-setting is a traditional role of government, and in the past has been a huge aid in helping industries consolidate, grow and achieve continuous improvement.

The UK has key role to play here. It should scrap all existing plans and create a new one from a blank piece of paper. All new UK nuclear plants should be of the same design.

Second, the criteria for choosing the design should emphasize experience in construction and operation, since that is the key factor for lowering costs.

Reprocessing waste should be off the table. It is unnecessary and adds to the costs.

Some emphasis should also be on mass-manufacturing modules, something the Koreans are also pursuing.

But what both Toshiba and Areva failures underscore is that all new nuclear plants, however much they are going to be manufactured, are going to require construction according to the exacting standards of strict regulators, and it was that kind of construction that helped destroy not just one but two of the world’s largest nuclear companies.

Third, the plants should be constructed sequentially so that managers and workers in Airbus Nuclear can learn from experience.

Fourth, the firm should have strong financial incentives for reducing costs.

Fifth, the program should include a significant increase in funding to test alternative reactors.

The record here is clear: governments only invest significantly in demonstrating new nuclear reactor types when their nations are building new nuclear plants. And with good reason: people believe there is a future for nuclear.

It works the same way in reverse. Long before they had achieved their goal of shutting down existing plants, anti-nuclear activists avidly sought to cut funding for nuclear innovation. They won a big victory in 1982 when Congress cut funding for the Clinch River fuel processing project. And they won another in 1993 when Congress cut funding for the integral fast reactor.

Funding for the experimental molten salt reactor developed at Oak Ridge in the late 1960s was cut before it could ever become a test reactor. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission estimated that building one would cost $10 billion (in 2016 dollars), and noted that past tests usually cost twice what had been estimated.

A long-term, global build-out of standardized nuclear plants is the only way in which states will invest the billions needed to test radically different designs.

3. Scale or Die

What’s behind the crisis facing nuclear generally and Toshiba in particular is the utter lack of certainty about any future nuclear plant builds — including those under construction.

Nations must work together to develop a long-term plan for new nuclear plant construction to achieve economies of scale. Such a plan would allow for certainty, learning-by-doing, cost declines and lower financing costs.

Risk and rewards should be pooled. Cost savings achieved through experience should be shared along with the cost overruns of the first few plants.

Governments should invest directly or provide low-cost loans. While this will inevitably be decried by anti-nuclear groups, the truth is that the U.S. and Europe have been subsidizing wind and solar for decades. In Illinois and California, subsidies for wind and solar have played a key role in threatening nuclear plants with premature closure, undermining clean air and climate goals.

Some basic fairness is in order. This starts with investment and financing as well as support for nuclear plants at risk of premature closure due to our discriminatory subsidy regime.

Others might wonder why nuclear energy should be supported when Boeing and Airbus flourished without government help. But the truth is that they didn’t: last year the World Trade Organization says Boeing and Airbus received billions in government subsidies — up to $22 billion worth for Airbus alone.

UK Labor leaders have already called for direct government investment to save the plants: “The delay we’re seeing under the Tories is leaving thousands of nuclear workers uncertain about their future,” the shadow Labor secretary said on Wednesday. “Public investment in nuclear energy would bring huge benefits through the nuclear supply chain and energy security.”

Plus, financing is the key to opening up the global market — something that is in the entire industry’s interest.

Vietnam recently cancelled plans to build nuclear plants and is now planning to build coal plants instead. Someone close to the situation told me that had foreign nations financed the nuclear plants, they would have gone forward.

And the quantities of financing — not development aid — are trivial considering the potential benefits to nuclear supplier nations, especially when the financing is spread out over 30 years and is shared by UK, Japan, France and the United States.

And such financing would offer a decisive advantage to the Airbus of nuclear over its competitors, allowing it to win contracts and provide the certainty everyone in the industry needs.

For such an effort to work, it would need widespread support that lasts for many decades. That will require that national governments work together to increase public demand and social acceptance of nuclear. Toshiba and Areva show that declining social acceptance drives demand for unnecessary regulations, as well as the industry’s constant changing of designs.

Japan’s nuclear industry cannot survive so long as public opposition is preventing the restarting of shuttered nuclear plants.

The Japanese government and industry leaders must overcome their shame and seek help from allied nations in overcoming the public’s continuing radiophobia in response to Fukushima.

What’s needed is an independent, serious and sustained effort by health and medical professionals to help Japanese and other publics to overcome fears based on grossly unscientific information.

France, Canada and most recently Vietnam all show that this can be done.

And as an analogy, there is much more to be learned from efforts to increase support for vaccinations among skittish parents. There is an aggressive and effective effort to educate the public about vaccines that, for the most part, still works. In response to a recent measles outbreaks, for example, California started requiring students be vaccinated to attend public schools.

If millions of parents will inject their children with the polio virus because they understand that it is a weakened version of the one that cripples and kills, they are capable of understanding that nuclear plants are the safest and cleanest way to make electricity.

The truth is that human beings around the world have been victimized by fake news about nuclear power since the late 1960s. When most people learn the basic facts about nuclear they become far more supportive of it.

And yet neither governments nor industry have ever, in the 50 years of nuclear energy, made a serious effort to provide those facts.

What that means is that there is enormous potential to touch hearts and change minds, just as many of ours were upon learning why nuclear is essential to mitigating climate change.

Now Change

The crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West also offers an opportunity for a new life.

When you consider that the nuclear industry has for 40 years often done the exact opposite of what’s known to work, it’s a small miracle that nuclear is still 11 percent of global electricity, instead of zero.

Everything that’s wrong — the proliferation of designs, the delay in project starts, efficient Korean competitors, low demand, low social acceptance — is something that can be made right.

We can learn from the Koreans. We can standardize design. We can finance the necessary scale. We can go back to Vietnam with a better deal. And we can increase public acceptance.

Policymakers have a special role to play. They must seek out reformers and change agents within an industry that is dominated by the same kind of thinking that led to today’s crisis. They must reach out to their counterparts in other nations. And they must stand up to ideologues peddling pseudo-science on the Left and pseudo-economics on the Right.

Ultimately new leadership with a new vision and plan must emerge from within the nuclear industry. Toshiba has seen a succession of leaders pitching what is fundamentally the same approach. It’s not clear that Areva has yet learned the lessons from its EPR debacle, or whether anyone has really started to clean house.
But, happily, Toshiba and Areva are not the only two companies capable of exercising the leadership required to save the world’s most important environmental technology from being consigned to the long-term waste repository of history.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Feb 23, 2017

Interest in nuclear will keep on waning as long as renewable generation seems a viable alternative to replace it.

However, Germany’s Energiewende will in a few years provide an example of how high the costs of a renewable generation system actually are. Germany shuts down its last nuclear plants in 2022 and soldiers on with solar and wind + their fossil fuel backup.

Solar and wind generation of the total is still less than 25% in Germany. Integration of more intermittency will be challenging and costly.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Feb 23, 2017

I’m pessimistic. Germany should already be a major deterring example, but it is not. Around the year 2000, I hoped wind pioneers would swiftly build out to the glass ceiling and then people would understand and could concentrate on nuclear. Unfortunately, wind grew slower and slower, eventually ending exponential growth in 2009, with no region going far above 20%, but nobody seems to notice. And now solar pioneers have stopped buildout, and nobody seems to notice that either. And when they eventually do, I guess they’ll just say “oh, look batteries are growing exponentially”. And after that, who knows, another straw to cling to.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 23, 2017

As an engineer, I can assure you that when production runs continually, companies are perfectly capable of balancing the benefits of continuing to produce a mature design, and ramping up production of a new model which will offer better performance, but will inevitably cost more in the short term. Active industries also tend to be pretty smart about knowing when to consolidate.

The problems come when production is not continuous, as in the nuclear plant and military aircraft industries, which is a very different situation than Boeing or Airbus commercial jets. A typical military aircraft is in production for ten years or so, then production ends. The production line doesn’t switch to a slightly evolved version of the same thing, but often to something total different: a fighter, a tanker, troop transport, etc. It can be decades between one production lot of fighters and the next set of fighters. Because of this, it is natural for engineers and customers to want to make a lot of design changes from the previously mature designs when a new production lot is ordered; that’s not a bad thing, technology and objectives changes. Costs will be high at first, but the key is to steadily ramp the build rate.

Thus, when the US began its nuclear renaissance a few years back, creating a new, unproven design (the AP1000) was the right choice, as the new features: much longer tolerance to station blackout and more modular construction are prudent, and the main cost, building experience, must be paid with a new or old design. The big mistake was building only 4 reactors at the whim of the market, rather than implementing strong policy support to build 80 GW worth, as the US has done with the wind industry.

The UK has key role to play here. It should scrap all existing plans and start from a blank piece of paper. All new UK nuclear plants should be of the same design.

Yes, the current nominal plan, to build two each of four different designs, is absolutely whacky. With a build target of between 10 and 20 GWatts, the UK is too small to support that many designs. But companies can’t behave and perform well without competition, and a prospect for future business. One-design means monopoly pricing for subsequent builds. One-design only works if the supplier is government owned, which misses all the advantages of a competitive environment.

Using two designs seems like the realistic choice for now. Today the UK’s best path appears to be 4 or so EPRs (because it is furthest along in UK paperwork), then a few of China’s Hualong One reactors (to repay Chinese companies for investing in the EPR builds), then a bunch of SMRs further out (to facilitate UK suppliers re-entering the business). That seems like a reasonable path, given the limitation of the options on the table today. It does have the risk that trouble with the problematic EPRs can spook investors and derail the whole plan, so government commitment is important to keep the ball rolling.

It is really a disgrace that the US is choosing not to lead the world in nuclear technology the way we lead in military aircraft. We’ve abandoned our allies and the best interests of the environment, to engorge ourselves on frac’ed fossil fuels. We should bring back the AP1000 as a US product, and push it alongside the NuScale SMR at home and abroad.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Feb 23, 2017

German scientists made enough simulation studies about the consequences of high wind & solar shares. The results of those are reflected in the adaptations of the Energiewende policy as you can read in the subsequent EEG’s (2000, 2004, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2017):
– grid expansions, bigger interconnections with other countries
Relative cheap.
– Increasing Power-to-Gas developments since 2004
Resulting in a pilot capacity of 2GW in 2022 and full roll-out in 2025
– Gradually less biomass expansion, now even moving towards reductions.
Too expensive.
– More solar and wind. Especially more offshore wind as that is becoming cheap too, and has high Capacity Factor (>50% for new wind farms).

The studies predict with high reliability that the costs will start to decrease in 2023*), which decrease will go on until renewable share will be >80 (=next ~20years).

While wind+solar capacity will continue to increase with ~6GW/a (in the ~68GW grid).
So wind+solar will be ~240GW in 2043.

*) After 2020 the extreme high guarantees of the first decade (up to €700/MWh for solar in 2003/4) gradually end.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 23, 2017

Yes, but the main features of Germany’s Energiewende, look just like a plan to preserve the coal industry (e.g. nuclear phase-out, increased transmission to other countries, placement of low-capacity factor PV system so they seem prevalent and dominant to the public). Perhaps this is a coincidence, or maybe deliberate. Time will tell.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Feb 23, 2017

Germany installed 1.5 GW in 2016, which is tiny. Wind value factor is at 86% and falling. Doesn’t look good.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Feb 23, 2017

“…look like a plan to preserve the coal industry…”
That look is not supported by the figures:
– 2000 total generation 577TWh; by coal: 291TWh;
– 2016 total generation 648TWh; by coal: 260TWh.
While total increased 12%, coal decreased 11%.

The decrease will accelerate when all nuclear is out after 2022.
All nuclear out is first priority as that is by far the most dangerous.

Just consider the significant genetic damage nuclear facilities create to newborn up to 40km away.

Most people have high priority regarding health & quality of their (future) children.

Edward Kee's picture
Edward Kee on Feb 23, 2017


All excellent points.

However, consolidating, standardizing and scaling require:

– Selection of a “winning vendor” – around which the industry can consolidate;
– Selection of a “winning design” – around which the industry can standardize; and
– Large need for new nuclear capacity to facilitate scale

The examples of where this was done are limited.
– France until mid-1980s (when N4 designs started construction)
– South Korea
– China

What these examples have in common are government ownership of nuclear power industry (easy to decide on vendor and reactor design); government control of electricity industry (captive customer for nuclear power plants), and a need for capacity (large and growing demand for power).

Your suggestions may only be possible in large countries with non-market economies.

The market approach to nuclear power, whether in U.S. or elsewhere in the world, involves vendors competing for market share, reactor designs being developed by these vendors to meet buyer preferences and/or requirements, and building units as possible (i.e., when buyers make investments).

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Feb 24, 2017


The dirty electricity generation in Germany is also a hindrance to cutting emissions in other sectors, notably space heating and transportation. 79% of German energy still comes from fossil fuels.

Let’s take transportation and cars: Nissan Leaf is a typical EV and consumes about 20 kWh/100 km. Since German electricity generation emissions are 500g/kWh, Leaf emits 10 kg of CO2 /100 km in Germany.

VW Golf is one of the most popular cars in Germany and comparable to Leaf in size. Several new Golf models emit 100 g/km of CO2. Thus a low-emission IC-engined Golf also emits 10 kg of CO2 /100 km.

By comparison, in France electricity generation produces 80 g of CO2/kWh. Thus a Leaf in France emits 1.6 kg of CO2.

According to LCA calculations, nuclear generation produces 4g of CO2/kWh while wind produces 8-20 g of CO2/kWh. Solar can be up to 80 g/kWh, depending on location. In each of these the emissions are created mainly in building the facilities.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 24, 2017

Bas, once again, your sources conflict with mainstream science.

Public exposure to radiation resulting from the generation of electricity by nuclear power plants is just a fraction of that from coal-powered plants, according to a report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).

Fake science from coal advocates must be rejected. It has kept the environmental movement fighting the wrong energy source for far too long.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Feb 24, 2017

in a plane crash? There are only two choices, jump out and die, or stay seated, and probably die.

True. And in a nuclear accident, the two choices are evacuate and live (if you’re not too fragile to be moved) or shelter in place and live. I agree that’s very different.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Feb 24, 2017

Sweden is a small country and built a dozen cheaply and quickly, of a few different designs (both BWRs and PWRs). It was before regulatory ratcheting. The trick might be to get the nukes built quickly before there’s a strong adversarial regulatory body in place? Seems to work now in UAE.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 24, 2017

Diagnosis seems spot-on:

what makes nuclear plants safer and cheaper to build and operate is experience, not new designs.

What the constant switching of designs does is deprive the people who build, operate and regulate nuclear plants of the experience they need to become more efficient.

But the prescription suggests it was written by someone who never read section 1:

… the new Boeing or Airbus of nuclear should build a single design. Standard-setting is a traditional role of government, and in the past has been a huge aid in helping industries consolidate, grow and achieve continuous improvement.

The UK has key role to play here. It should scrap all existing plans and start from a blank piece of paper.

In other words, throwing away all of the hard-won experience from recent plant builds, “depriv[ing] the people who build, operate and regulate nuclear plants of the experience they need to become more efficient.”

This is clearly the wrong approach.  If recent experience is the key, and there is a body of experience which can be tapped, it is clearly more efficient to build on that than to start over again from zero.  As it happens, Toshiba would probably jump at the chance to unload its nuclear business.  With 8 plants under construction and as far along as due for fueling this year, it’s clearly the shortest path to operations in the USA, and likely the UK too.  World Nuclear has this to say:

In 2014 Westinghouse said that the second plant at each site saw a 30% reduction in manpower requirements compared with the first unit. The company has also been working on the next eight units anticipated in China and expects about a 50% productivity increase compared with the first two Chinese AP1000 units.

If engineering is not the problem, it doesn’t particularly matter which of the various designs get settled on, as long as it’s settled.  The available (not national proprietary) design with the most and most recent construction experience is the AP1000.

It looks like the fastest way forward is for a consortium to take Westinghouse off of Toshiba’s hands and make a go of it.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 24, 2017

So what IS your argument for not evacuating when a nuclear plant releases radiation?

Because people are better-shielded in buildings than in vehicles, especially vehicles which are trapped in traffic jams, involved in accidents, or out of fuel.  People in a panic to leave, often without medications, adequate food or even water, are at far greater and immediate risk than anything they’d get from a small dose of radiation.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 24, 2017

Nancy, because I live 12 miles downwind of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, I have some personal experience with that question.

The 1959 Santa Susana Field Laboratory accident in Simi Valley, CA released 400 times as much radiation as Three Mile Island, and has been estimated to result in several hundred deaths over the years. That number is dwarfed by the number of local people who have died of smog-induced lung cancer over the same period – and when I ask my neighbors about it, few are even aware of it. I have no plans of evacuating my modest home here in Burbank.

If you want to worry about scary nuclear plants releasing scary radiation, that’s your choice. I’m saving my worries for climate change, which actually has some basis in science (and like the airplane, evacuation really isn’t an option).

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Feb 25, 2017

“…look like a plan to preserve the coal industry…”
That look is not supported by the figures:
– 2000 total generation 577TWh; by coal: 291TWh;
– 2016 total generation 648TWh; by coal: 260TWh.
While total increased 12%, coal decreased 11%

A small decline in generation does little harm to the coal plant industry (and 11% decline over 16 yrs is little). Closing down coal fleet capacity harms the industry. As it is, the industry can keep its entire coal fleet in place (it has), and still run the entire fleet when the wind doesn’t blow as in December, charging whatever it likes to make up the balance from idling at other times of the year.

Bas – before you entered coal promotion, did you have a career hawking the wonders of VW diesel emissions?

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Mar 5, 2017

The UNSCEAR report shows similar bias as the James Hansen etal publication that nuclear would be less dangerous.

In order to reach his goal, James Hansen assumed 43 deaths for Chernobyl, while other estimates vary between >8000 (IAEA, etc.) and more than a million (Annals New York Academy of Sciences).

Seems that the UNSCEAR report even didn’t consider those disasters in order to promote nuclear!

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Mar 5, 2017

Realize that nuclear is far more harmful.
So moving all nuclear out has highest priority in Germany.

And they make good progress in line with their planning:
– 2000 nuclear generated 170TWh (29%)
– 2016 nuclear generated 85TWh (13%)

Michael Shellenberger's picture
Thank Michael for the Post!
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