World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017 once again confirms that supporting renewable energy is the right political move - Rebecca Harms

I have been supporting the World Nuclear Industry Status Report almost since its first edition. This report is indeed in my view a crucial resource for those engaged in the political debate around nuclear power. Since it began, this document has always provided invaluable facts on which to assess the promises of the nuclear industry.

 Despite the fact that the nuclear sector continues to claim the opposite, this latest report clearly shows that there is no such thing as a nuclear renaissance. Growth rates are miniscule, especially compared with developments in the renewables sector and building times are long. Many reactor projects are years behind schedule. This alone shows that nuclear will be unable to solve the climate crisis, while on top of that, building costs are exploding. Therefore, the claim that nuclear will provide cheap electricity is not true either. 

The World Nuclear Status Report shows nuclear cannot be the answer to the climate crisis. Other technologies now offer more clean energy per euro spent and are much faster to deploy. For example, wind adds almost four times the amount of power to the grid than nuclear, while solar adds over twice as much. The growth rates of these technologies far outpace the sluggish growth of the nuclear sector. At the same time, the costs of these technologies are rapidly decreasing - as one should expect from maturing technology. Nuclear on the other hand seems to be growing more expensive the longer it is used.

Take for example the financial problems of the nuclear industry, including the world’s largest nuclear operator EDF, which are exacerbated by high debt loads, deteriorating credit ratings, low wholesale-market prices, a shrinking client base, stagnating consumption at best, as well as increasing maintenance and therefore production costs. Post-Fukushima, nuclear plants face higher investment needs for upgrading and ferocious competitors with steep growth rates. At the same time, the technical bankruptcy of AREVA, followed by the bankruptcy of Toshiba-Westinghouse, the largest nuclear builder in the world, leaves the West’s nuclear building industry in shambles. As companies become desperate to cut costs, we cannot rule out serious consequences for the quality and reliability of maintenance, fuel production and waste management services. The danger that the attempt to cut costs comes at the expense of adequate safety measures is extremely daunting.

Clearly, investing in nuclear technology is not the right course of action. Nevertheless, some governments continue to support this technology. The only question the report leaves unanswered is how it is possible that despite all of the above-mentioned problems the industry faces, Europe has still not abandoned nuclear power as an option for electricity production.

I believe this is a question for politicians to answer, rather than the scientists who wrote this report. This is why I sincerely hope that the many politicians working on energy files and on nuclear in particular take the time to read the 2017 World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

You can read the report here.