By Amory Lovins
Nuclear reactor purchase orders collapsed to zero in  the year before Three Mile Island because they cost too much. How do we know? The cover story of the last 1978 issue of Business Week, months before TMI, reported nuclear power’s commercial collapse. TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima only emphasized the industry’s slow-motion collapse caused not by public fears but by the lack of a business case.
Chancellor Angela Merkel didn’t decide to phase out nuclear power only after Fukushima in 2011; Germany had already written the phaseout into its atomic law in 2002 after a national consensus process in 2001. Fukushima only reversed a delay (added months before) and [Germany] returned to the original 2022 phaseout date. Now the last three reactors may run briefly, probably a few months, into 2023 to help 1-2% with the Russian gas crisis.
California’s legislature just voted to extend Diablo Canyon five years beyond its planned 2024/25 retirement at age 40 — if it meets a slew of conditions it’s unlikely to meet, such as showing 1) the extension is needed, 2) won’t cost too much, and 3) its gotten all required federal approvals and subsidies. In other words they voted to do the analyses no one had done when the Governor’s office, a few weeks before adjournment, introduced this proposal that no state agency or utility had requested, reversing a thoroughly analyzed 2016 agreement that nearly all the legislators had approved just four years ago. Nothing significant changed since except the Governor’s mind.
Renewables’ [often claimed] “unreliability and relatively small contribution to overall power generation” is untrue. Renewables outproduce nuclear energy in the US and the world, and are growing rapidly while nuclear output is stagnant or falling. Solar cells and wind turbines do produce varying output, but those variations are more predictable than nuclear reactors’ bigger, longer, and more abrupt failures. Solar and wind power’s unpredictable (“forced”) outages are roughly one-tenth those of nuclear power, so they need less and cheaper backup to keep the grid reliable.
State-level data confirm that abrupt nuclear retirement (not with the 9-year notice provided in California) can briefly raise gas-fired generation, but only for a year or two; then renewables and efficiency can contest the market space and grid capacity that the nuclear reactor sat on, they win, and they get installed. Since they’re cheaper than running the closed [reactor], they displace more fossil-fueled generation for the same cost, and for many times longer, so they protect the climate better than continuing to run the uneconomic nuclear unit.
— Amory Lovins is a physicist, an architect, an engineering scholar, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute and currently Adjunct Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University.
Leave a Reply