World Nuclear Industry Status Report asks: Is Nuclear Power a Strategic Asset, liability, or Irrelevant?
By Kelly Lundeen
Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2018-19
Global nuclear power generation increased 1% in 2017, compared to a 35% increase in solar, and a 17% increase in wind power, according to the 2018 World Nuclear Industry Status Report. Total investment in new nuclear for 2017 was $16 billion, but the total invested in wind and solar energy was $260 billion. Globally, renewables provide 19% of total installed electric generating capacity.
Without China’s steep increases in nuclear power generation, nuclear generation would have declined worldwide for the third year in a row. Nuclear made up 10.5% of electric generation worldwide, down from its peak of 17.5% in 1996. Lead author Mycle Schneider said the report shows that nuclear power is “a threatened species.”
The Danish firm Ørsted, after conducting the largest global survey of public opinion about a transition to renewable energy, found “82% believe it is important to create a world fully powered by renewable energy” that does not include nuclear.
Do nuclear weapons need nuclear power?
Considering the inability of nuclear to compete in the market (illustrated by bankruptcies at Westinghouse and Areva), a decrease in investment in nuclear, and the international preference for renewables, why do some countries continue to pour money into new reactors and into license extensions for old ones? The World Nuclear Industry Status Report asked this question for the first time.
The largest investments in nuclear power come from states with nuclear weapons programs, not from private industry.
A leaked June 2018 US Department of Energy memorandum admits what many have suspected. “The entire US enterprise—weapons, naval propulsion, non-proliferation, enrichment, fuel services, and negotiations with international partners—depends on a robust civilian nuclear industry. Without a strong domestic nuclear power industry, the US will not only lose the energy security and grid resilience benefits, but it will also lose its workforce technical expertise, supply chain, and position of clean energy leadership.”
Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) condemned the memo, writing, “For years, the nuclear industry insisted that civilian nuclear power had nothing to do with weapons programs… Now, in a desperate attempt to keep no-longer-competitive nuclear [reactors] from being shuttered, the industry claims there really has been a connection all along…. The whole point of the body of the [Energy Secretary, Rick] Perry letter is that there is a close connection between US nuclear power and our nuclear weapons programs.”
As states choose whether to invest in renewables or nuclear, they should take a lesson from the market.
—Green Citizens’ Action Alliance, Nov. 15, 2018; World Nuclear Industry Status Report, Sept. 4, 2018; The National Interest, Aug. 8, 2018; Letter to Secretary Rick Perry, Jun. 26, 2018; E & E News, Jun. 6, 2018; Ørsted, 2017