Nuclear power has become irrelevant — like it or not

Ten years have passed since the accident began in Fukushima Daiichi. What happened in the US when it historically spearheaded the world’s nuclear power programs and still operated the largest reactor fleet in the world? Which global developments in energy policy are increasingly being dominated by renewable energies?

“The debate is over. The sun and wind have eclipsed nuclear power,” wrote Dave Freeman in the foreword to the 2017 World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

The file photo taken on February 14, 2021 shows tanks in which treated water containing radioactive tritium is stored on the site of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant about 10 years after the nuclear crisis. (Kyodo) == Kyodo

The renowned industrial thinker, dubbed the “energy prophet” by the New York Times, died last year at the age of 94. He had seen nuclear power come and go. In 1977, President Carter named him chairman of the only fully public utility company in the United States, the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Construction of two nuclear reactors in the state began in 1972. Completion of the first reactor took until 1996 and the second until 2016. These were the last units to be established in the USA.

Construction of four units began in 2013, but in 2017 the bankruptcy of construction company Westinghouse resulted in the abandonment of the split VC Summer project in South Carolina, valued at $ 10 billion.

Estimates of construction costs for the only other active construction site in the US, the Vogtle two-unit project in Georgia, have increased by a factor of from $ 6.1 billion in 2009 to $ 28 billion in 2018 nearly five multiplied.

Mycle Schneider (Kyodo)

In the meantime, the US nuclear fleet is aging with no new build and the 94 reactors still in operation are now over an average of 40 years old. Although the US nuclear industry claims to have seen lower operating and maintenance costs – the only nuclear nation to do so – utilities are still struggling to compete with strong competitors in the renewable energy sector.

For solar photovoltaic systems, the cost of generating electricity has decreased by 90 percent over the past decade, and wind power has decreased by 70 percent, while the cost of nuclear kilowatt hours has increased by a third.

The global nuclear industry has lost the new construction market. Five reactors were commissioned in 2020, six were decommissioned.

As Freeman explained, “These free fuel renewable sources are no longer a dream or a projection – they are a reality that is replacing nuclear power as the preferred choice for new power plants around the world.”

No wonder there is desperation at the headquarters of the nuclear companies. Ten years after the catastrophe in Japan, nuclear energy has become irrelevant in the world, an industrial reality that Japanese politicians must also face.

(Mycle Schneider is an independent international energy and nuclear energy consultant. He is the coordinator and editor of the annual global nuclear industry status report.)

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