Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nuclear Power Was in Decline Even Before Fukushima

In an exclusive interview with the Website of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, Anthony P. Froggart (Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment and Development Program, Chatham House, UK), pointed out that the rapid advancements in technology
Antony Froggart
and economics of renewables are forcing even the most nuclear-intensive countries to question the viability of their nuclear programs. Speaking on the sidelines of the ECSSR’s Annual Energy Conference 17 titled: “Global Energy Markets: Changes in the Strategic Landscape,” held on Nov.1-2, 2011, Froggart averred that the Fukushima tragedy has further accentuated the trend away from nuclear. Following is the text of the interview:
Q: Do you see there has been a change in public perception and the perception of governments around the world against nuclear power after the Fukushima tragedy earlier this year?A: What we have seen as a result of Fukushima is that a number of countries who already had concerns about nuclear power are accelerating their decision-making and the obvious example in this regard is Germany. In the late 1990s, Germany introduced legislation to phase out nuclear power. This was later overturned. But post-Fukushima, Germany has reverted back to the decision of phasing out nuclear power. Again, in other European countries we see an increase in skepticism toward nuclear power and legislation in this respect has followed or is in the process of being followed. For example, a referendum took place in Italy where people voted against the reintroduction of nuclear power. Similarly in Switzerland, the government is likely to reject the nuclear option and the new government in Belgium has also said it would phase out nuclear. However, some governments in Europe still say that they wish to continue with their nuclear programs. The varied reaction can be seen around the world. Thus post-Fukushima, we find construction of new reactors in India and Pakistan. However, a country like China—which currently has 40 percent of the world’s reactors under construction—has not started building any new reactors this year and it seems it has frozen its expansion program post-Fukushima.
Q: Does this mean China has put on hold its plans to build nuclear reactors? Do you think it is scaling back its projects in the wake of the Fukushima tragedy or are there other factors in play?A: China was early going very fast in building its nuclear reactors. Within its 12th Five-Year Plan, it was extremely ambitious. I think it is very clear that it will now not be able to meet its objectives of the 12thFive Year Plan, but as of yet they are not talking of abandoning nuclear, but are looking at what lessons might be drawn from the Fukushima tragedy and it is also believed that they might be using the event as a justification for a slowdown because they were going so fast beforehand that it was leading to engineering and oversight issues, and so they are taking a step back. So it is very clear that it will impact their nuclear development target.
I believe nuclear power was already having problems globally before Fukushima in terms of its development. The peak of nuclear output was in 2002, since then we have seen a decrease in the total number of reactors in operation as more have closed than have started up. The reasons behind this are multifold. Firstly, it is the availability of alternatives. In the last few years, for example, it was said that the United States would re-instigate the construction of new nuclear. This is now very unlikely, mainly because the price of gas has fallen to the extent that going nuclear makes no economic sense. In many parts of the world alternatives are available. You are seeing the development of renewables, in a way we haven’t seen before as well as the promise of the development of renewables.
Q: Are current financial issues also affecting some governments to move into renewables as opposed to nuclear energy?A: Right now there are concerns over public acceptance, when it comes to nuclear. But I think the price of nuclear is even more important in the current times—both in terms of price of construction and the fact that this price continues to increase. In addition, the price of capital is also becoming more expensive and so financial institutions that may have been willing to lend for the development of nuclear energy, may either be no longer willing to do so or at least the price of borrowing the money has increased substantially.
Q: What are the major advances taking place in the field of renewable energy that could reduce global reliance on nuclear energy in coming decades?A: The energy sector as a whole is in a flux like never before. This has happened with changes like the development of shale gas, the economic viability of carbon capture and storage, the development of renewable energies in their technologies and economics, the prospects of solar photovoltaic achieving grid parity. I think the prospects for solar photovoltaic technology are particularly bright. So you have all of these developments and if you invest in nuclear at the current time with all of the uncertainty both from a financial perspective and from a technological development perspective you lock yourself in a certain development path of energy. Therefore, it makes sense just to pause and assess how technologies of renewable energy would develop.

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