Market Research

Published on November 30th, 2014 | by James Ayre


IEA Report: Future Of Nuclear Energy Industry “Uncertain”

November 30th, 2014 by  

Exelon nuclear power plant by iluvcocacola (some rights reserved)The global nuclear energy industry is facing an increasingly uncertain future according to the International Energy Agency’s recent World Energy Outlook 2014 — owing to a number of different coalescing factors.

These factors — economic uncompetitiveness, lack of public confidence, massive subsidy reliance, changing government policy, “financing in liberalized markets,” and the approaching closure of old facilities — have resulted in the current flagging state of the industry in Europe and the US, and the aggressive exportation of the industry to India, China, and the Middle East.

The majority of nuclear projects currently under development are in India, Russia, China, and South Korea. While the “poster child” — more or less — of the industry, France, is actually now looking to cut its home nuclear capacity by one-third by 2025. And, of course, Germany is quickly pulling out of nuclear completely. This shift is partly a result of the high (and rising) costs of the technology, and partly environmental concerns/public opinion.

While proponents of nuclear like to argue that it’s the only non-fossil-fuel-reliant generation technology that could possibly provide enough power to keep the globalized world going, they almost invariably leave out the facts that the technology is incredibly capital-intensive, reliant on government subsidy (the private market will not finance or insure it), takes long to develop, is water-intensive, and is of course susceptible to catastrophic failure. These issues are largely not shared by nuclear’s competitor technologies — solar, wind, geothermal, etc.

What then is the upside to nuclear? If you were an investor choosing between investing in a large solar project that could be built and online within just a few years (or less), that didn’t involve the use of materials that constitute a public health danger, that didn’t require close access to a major waterway; or a renewable energy project that was none of these things, why would you choose the nuclear option?

Taking these questions into account, it isn’t hard to see why the technology is facing an increasingly “uncertain” future — as the IEA put it.


The Hindu provides some interesting comments on that note:

The key fact about nuclear power is that it is the world’s most subsidy-fattened energy industry, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations. Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half-a-century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times.

In this light, nuclear power has inexorably been on a downward trajectory. The nuclear share of the world’s total electricity production reached its peak of 17% in the late 1980s. Since then, it has been falling, and is currently estimated at about 13%, even as new uranium discoveries have swelled global reserves. With proven reserves having grown by 12.5% since just 2008, there is enough uranium to meet current demand for more than 100 years.

Yet, the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear-generating capacity. In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear-generated electricity.

Boom. While these realities seem as though they would satisfy the minds of most, I’m expecting that there will no doubt be some who read this article and can’t stop themselves from spouting out the usual pro-nuclear talking points. But alas, I suppose that’s the fate of any public debate — the more clear the realities become, the more that people entrench themselves in their various ideologies. Ideologies aside, though, it seems very unlikely that nuclear technology as it stands will make any economic sense in the future — so, for reasons mostly unrelated to what anyone may wish, think, or desire, the technology seems to be on its way out.

On that note, the French nuclear energy giant Areva recently saw its stock price drop considerably after the announcement that it was “suspending” its financial outlook for 2015 and 2016 — owing to cashflow problems to do with its long-delayed project in Finland and its failure to convince Japan to restart most reactors after the Fukushima disaster.

Image Credit: Exelon nuclear power plant by iluvcocacola (some rights reserved)

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • Freedom_First

    Wind and solar are a joke because they cannot supply base load. They are also several times more expensive than coal or nuclear. They are unreliable and extremely expensive to integrate into a grid because the grid needs to match the load.
    They require massive subsidies and cannot stand on their own
    like coal and nuclear. The proponents of wind and solar are
    ignorant about basic physics. They don’t even know the difference between energy and power. And, they don’t even understand simple concepts such as capacity factor. They never tell you that one gig solar or wind installation only produces about one fifth the energy as a one gig nuclear or coal plant.

    • juxx0r

      Wow, just wow.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Yes, the only reason Australia has so much rooftop solar is because we have a bad feral cat problem.

    • sault

      Dude, if you think nuclear and coal can stand on their own, you are delusional. First of all, The Price Anderson Act forces the U.S. Federal Gov’t to supply liability insurance for nuclear reactors. Since a Fukushima-level incident will undoubtedly cost several hundred billion dollars at least, the nuclear industry absolutely cannot obtain adequate insurance on the private market. You also ignore the billions in R&D supports the nuclear industry has received especially since a lot of the core technology it uses was developed during the Manhattan Project and other subsequent nuclear weapons research.

      As for coal, the fact that the industry causes billions of dollars in damages from the pollution it releases and the climate change it causes means its one of the most heavily-subsidized industries in the country. Studies put the level of damages from coal pollution (ignoring climate change completely) at between $100B and $500B annually in just the USA alone:

      Please try to learn about the reality we all live in instead of just regurgitating fossil fuel company talking points.

    • Bob_Wallace

      For all years up to the end of 2013 US taxpayers subsidized nuclear energy more than $185 billion. During the same timeframe wind and solar received about $25 billion combined.

      In 2013 nuclear produced 19.4% of all US electricity. Wind and solar produced 4.33%

      Nuclear has received 7.4x as much subsidy over time and yet is produced only 4.5x as much electricity as wind and solar in 2013. We are currently getting 1.6x more electricity per dollar subsidy with wind and solar.

      ERCOT (the Texas grid) reports that the cost of integrating wind and solar onto their grid is extremely cheap, $0.0005/kWh. And that is both more expensive and more difficult to integrate large thermal plants.

      As for people who know about renewables not understanding power, energy and CF, that’s simply a pile.

      You’ve written a stupid and dishonest comment.

      • sault

        Plus there’s the opportunity cost of subsidizing nuclear for such a long time. Just throwing that money into a bank could have resulted in nearly a trillion dollars today. And is the $185B in nuclear subsidies in constant 2013 dollars or just total dollars?

      • Freedom_First

        “the cost of integrating wind and solar onto their grid is extremely cheap,

        Nonsense. You know nothing about basic physics. By the way, all wind and solar is completely useless for grid power because they need to be backed up by coal and/nuclear.

        Here are a few numbers for you regarding CF:

        Germany has around 70 gigawatts (GW) of combined solar and wind power capacity. In 2013, those 70 GW generated 85,132 GWh of electricity.
        Germany also has 12 GW of remaining nuclear capacity in operation. Last year, those 12 GW produced 92,097 GWh.

        So, over the next 8 years, when they plan to retire all of the remaining nuclear plants, they will need to build another 70 to 75 GW of wind and solar capacity just to replace the clean electricity from the nuclear plants. This is why they are failing to achieve their climate goals. They need to build huge amounts of renewables just to replace the nuclear plants, so they still need to burn lignite for baseload power. How much higher will the power bills go with another 70 GW of renewables receiving feed in tariffs?

        • Jenny Sommer

          Get some information on the structure of fits.
          For more details you can look at renewables international.

        • Bob_Wallace

          One wouldn’t need to know anything about physics in order to read what the Texas grid (ERCOT) reports about the costs they have for integrating wind and solar.

          “Very large quantities of wind are being used by several grid operators with virtually no increase in the need for operating reserves,” AWEA Transmission Policy Manager Michael Goggin. “The Midwest System Operator (MISO) has over twelve gigawatts. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has over ten gigawatts. Xcel Energy subsidiary Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo) has had well over 50 percent wind at times.

          Renewables opponents, Goggin recalled, “have said for years that costs would go up and the grid would fall apart. They have been proven wrong.”

          In ERCOT’s calculations for 2011, Goggin said, “the total cost for integrating wind came out at about $0.50 per megawatt-hour.” And, he added, without 2011’s anomalies in July and August that accounted for 80 percent percent of all costs, the total costs in 2012 for the necessary balancing reserves and other expenses associated with the integration of large amounts of wind are expected to be even lower.

          “Newer research suggests systems can go to 40 percent renewables with no problem,” Goggin said, “using the very efficient grid operating practices being applied by MISO, ERCOT, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and others.”

          “They do very fast interval dispatch of all energy resources,” Goggin continued. “because load is continuously changing, the output of fossil-fired plants is continuously changing, and, of course, wind is continuously changing, too.” The closer system operators are to real-time dispatch, he explained, the more effectively supply and demand can be balanced without the use of reserves.

          “They also have pretty large balancing areas,” Goggin added. “If one wind project is going off, another is probably going on somewhere, providing an overall more stable output. Larger areas also simply have more resources to accommodate variability. In MISO, wind’s variability is just something in the noise. It is not showing up in their reserve needs.”

          ERCOT’s data is similar, Goggin said. “The areas of the country that have efficient grid operating practices have shown it is possible to integrate very large quantities of wind very reliably at virtually zero incremental cost. The areas of the country that don’t have efficient grid operating practices, namely, much of the West outside California, are seeing increased costs and challenges.”

          Studies show nuclear and large fossil plants actually have “far higher integration costs than renewables,” Goggin said. “Contingency reserves, the super-fast acting energy reserve supply required of grid operators in case a large power plant shuts down unexpectedly, are a major cost. Comparing the incremental cost of wind to those costs that ratepayers have always paid, the wind cost looks even more trivial.”

          The fundamental issues are more or less the same with integrating solar, Goggin, who specializes in wind, said. “Relative to wind, solar has more minute-to-minute variability, which increases the cost. But forecasting the sun is easier because it is clear when the sun will come up and go down and when the peak is, and that reduces the cost. But grid operators who use efficient operating methods are finding it is no more of a challenge or cost than wind.”

        • Bob_Wallace


          Germany’s industrial electricity costs are lower than the EU27 average. (Table below.)

          Germany has very affordable wholesale electricity. (Figure below.)

          Germany’s retail consumers pay a large amount of taxes along with their electricity purchases and the majority of these taxes have nothing to do with electricity, they’re basically sales taxes like we pay when we buy a new pair of socks.

          Germany did experience a small increase in fossil fuel use when they closed some reactors, but that’s behind them now.

          Germany is on track to meet their GHG emission goals for 2020. Germany is going to be closing more coal plants and will be better prepared for the next round of reactor closings.

  • Nelson A.

    Nuclear power is a clean energy source that produces electricity without emitting any of the pollutants associated with fossil fuels, including greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, deadly particulates, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide. Reductions in these pollutants would alleviate global warming, mitigate environmental hazards like acid rain, and tackle the thousands of deaths a year caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.

    Nuclear power is essentially renewable, since the uranium-based fuel used is virtually inexhaustible. Furthermore, although nuclear plants consume more water than fossil fuel plants, they require far less than other renewable options like hydropower, geothermal, and solar.

    • Larmion

      The first paragraph is true.

      The second is questionable. Uranium supplies aren’t inexhaustable with the nuclear fuel cycle we have today, but with reprocessing and perhaps even breeding supply does become infinite for all practical accounts and purposes.

      The water bit is plain wrong. A fossil fuel plant typically requires the most water out of all options, except when dry cooling is used. Solar in the form of PV uses only marginal amounts of water for cleaning, as does CSP if a closed cycle is used (as is often the case). Geothermal can also have minimal water use with a closed cycle, although that is hard to implement in practice.

      Hydropower technically consumes no water at all, although evaporation from reservoirs can be massive.

      Nuclear power is rather water-hungry. Dry cooling is not yet feasible, though China is doing its best to develop a viable path towards it. The volumes used in more traditional evaporative cooling are huge, as they are for all thermal plants.

  • Riya

    The importance of nuclear energy can never be ignored. Even after Chernobyl and Fukushima like accidents it is still considered to be the safest mode of power generation. It only requires safe construction and proper maintenance. Where France and Germany are quitting nuclear power there at the same time Japan where Fukushima happened is now again revitalizing its nuclear power. At least it doesn’t emit carbon gases and makes environment polluted.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “Fukushima like accidents it is still considered to be the safest mode of power generation.”

      That is nothing but a pile of horse shit. You should be ashamed of yourself.

      • SMG_VII

        Coal kills more people every year than nuclear power has killed in its entire existence. The only people afraid of nuclear power are the incompetent and willfully ignorant. If anyone should be ashamed of themselves, it’s absolutist extremists like you who have no desire to see a diversified non-greenhouse-gas-emitting energy portfolio.

        • Jenny Sommer

          Investing in nuclear would slow down the closure of coal. It’s more expensive than coal, takes 10+ years to built and the taxpayer is on the hook for anything that goes wrong.

          Take Iran…they could have 60% renewables by if they had started wind and solar some years ago.
          Instead they wasted bullions on nuclear.

    • Jenny Sommer

      It’s also considered the most expensive and least effective way of reducing emissions.

      • Larmion

        By whom? It is still cheaper than solar, biogas and marine power almost everywhere.

        Energy efficiency, wind and large hydro are cheaper. So I’d say it’s pretty much middle-of-the-pack.

        • Jenny Sommer

          Only new oil would be more expensive.
          Solar is cheaper even in Germany.
          Small hydro between 250kw and 1000kw very much depends on the location.
          Biogas/Biomass has a huge range. Biowaste could be the cheapest of all.

          Is there not always a cheaper renewable solution to new nuclear today?

        • Bob_Wallace

          Where is new nuclear cheaper than new solar?

          • Calamity_Jean

            Above the Arctic Circle?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I don’t know. Solar insolation is pretty high for half the year.

            That would make for some interesting math.

          • Neptune

            Above the Arctic Circle insolation increases. You have daylight for half a year.

            Actually, you could make baseload solar for half a year if you wanted.

          • Calamity_Jean

            True, but what would you do for the other half year? The solar arrays would have zero output and therefore zero revenue.

            I was thinking a nuclear plant in the high Arctic would be in such a low-temperature environment that it could be air-cooled and wouldn’t need cooling towers or ponds. Less plumbing = less maintenance = lower expenses = higher profits.

            It does occur to me, however, that even if nukes could compete with solar in the Arctic, they couldn’t compete with wind. Nuke fail!

          • Bob_Wallace

            But you didn’t ask the question “Where might it be cheaper to run a grid off nuclear than solar?” ;o)

            Sure, if one had only a solar/nuclear choice nuclear would be cheaper on a 365 basis than solar. The cost of storing half a year’s power would be very high.

            Or perhaps not. Solar + PuHS might be cheaper than nuclear if one had some optimal storage sites.

            I think Alaska’s big option could be enhanced geothermal. If we can figure out the hole-drilling problem. Electricity plus heat.

          • Calamity_Jean

            I was trying to answer your original question, “Where is new nuclear cheaper than new solar?” And I believe you have answered it:

            “Sure, if one had only a solar/nuclear choice nuclear would be cheaper on a 365 basis than solar.”

          • Bob_Wallace

            It depends on what is meant by “cheaper”.

            Solar would be cheaper. Take the annual cost and divide by the amount of power produced in a year. Solar will be cheaper than nuclear.

            You’re looking at the cost of powering a grid. While solar would be cheaper per kWh it would be more expensive to build a 12 month grid with only solar because all of solar’s output would come in the sunny part of the year.

            (We’re both right.)

  • My Take

    Energy cannot be created nor be destroyed but it can be converted from one form to another. Optimal utilization of natural resources in production of energy is a very thoughtful approach for any nation. It not only enhances the socio-economic condition but also sets example for the other countries. We should fund nuclear energy research now or tomorrow we may not be able to turn the lights on.

    • Bob_Wallace

      How do all those countries that have no nuclear reactors keep their lights on?

      • Larmion

        Coal, mostly. Also a lot of hydro and natural gas.

        There’s this thing called wind energy that’s almost becoming noticeable in global production statistics. Almost.

        • Bob_Wallace

          My Take stated –

          “We should fund nuclear energy research now or tomorrow we may not be able to turn the lights on.”

          I was hoping he/she would give us the answer. (I’ve known the answer for many years.)

  • Eshel Dapez

    The nature of nuclear is twofold;
    one is destructive and other is developmental. First human makes weapons with
    nuclear and then in order to save face in front of future generations
    introduced civilian energy uses. There are three events of nuclear disasters
    and one for nuclear bombs which are capable enough to horrify the world. On other
    hand, nuclear power is the most viable and efficient option energy source to
    match the pace with needs. The uncertain future actually embarks on inadequate
    security measures. Likewise Indian government wanted to build more and more
    nuclear power plants in the backdrop of many anti-nuclear protests.

  • UncleB

    New nuclear technologies, likely from China, Thorium LFTR styled concepts not dead yet? Gas cooled pebble bed reactors? Fissionables include huge amounts of Thorium as Uranium is depleted? A mix of these and renewables as oil eventually prices itself off the market? Right now the Holy Grail is electric storage?

  • JamesWimberley

    James omits the most fatal weakness of nuclear power: its negative learning curve. With greater experience, costs have not fallen as with a normal technology like wind or solar, but risen inexorably. Arnulf Grubler’s chart here (link), reproduced by Joe Romm. It doesn’t include Hinkley C or the two EPR reactors under construction, which fit he pattern perfectly.

    • Larmion

      There is actually a positive learning curve; construction costs for a contemporary generation two design like the CPR has fallen in real terms and operating costs have fallen for almost al designs.

      The problem is that newer designs include ever more safety features (many useful, especially in the are of cooling, but some utterly useless – new regulations demand protection against severe earthquakes in areas that have no seismic activity in the seismic record). Associated costs like financing, waste processing and such like have also increased dramatically.

      For a fair comparison, he should have chosen one type of nuclear plant and tracked its cost through time.

      Of course, that flawed methodology doesn’t change the underlying conclusion: the cost of nuclear hasn’t fallen in real terms, unlike that of virtually every other source of energy.

      • JamesWimberley

        The French reactors Grubler tracked were SFIK all one basic design – as I said, he didn’t include the new Flamanville EPR. Any source for your assertion that construction costs have fallen? I mean, actual historical data, not the industry’s projections, increasingly detached from reality. The safety improvements are part of the cost, you can’t wish them away or say they don’t count somehow. No democracy today would allow the reproduction of an unmodified 1960s design.

        • Larmion

          You can and should wish them away. A cost comparison must always be designed to keep everything but unit cost equal – you can’t compare the price of a Big Mac in 1950 with the price of a Big Mac, fries and a soda in 2014.

          One should try to identify a design that has been in continuous use for the whole period of the study (the Framatome CPR fits the bill) and look only at the reactor itself. Everything else is a confounding variable. As such, you cannot conclude from that (interesting) post that there is a negative or positive learning curve.

          Of course, that’s a purely methodological point. I’ll be the last person to deny that nuclear has become more expensive.

  • Jan Veselý

    The only chance to survive for nuclear energy industry is to stop making cathedrals. They have to figure out how to make power plants which are:
    1) the right size (f.e. 10 MW modules)
    2) dispatchable (heat storage?)
    3) modular (factory assembly or prefabs)
    4) save by design
    5) produce low or no nuclear waste
    6) user friendly
    I wish them luck.

    • Jouni Valkonen

      And do we really think that it is more plausible to engineer such nuclear reactor that could be economically viable, than to get the costs of lithium batteries down 50% that would allow price competitive storage for renewables and electric cars?

      Renewables+storage should reach global parity with grid electricity by 2020.

      • Jan Veselý

        Once you have cost of your own production under grid costs, every centralised power plant becomes too expensive to be more than just a backup (third source after PV and battery).
        “My” design would be useful for CHP in cities and energy intensive industries.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Large reactors are more cost efficient than are small reactors.

      For small reactors to be built in factories for a reasonable price there would have to be customers willing to purchase a lot of these reactors. Probably hundreds.

      GE recently looked at the probable market and closed down their SMR division. I’m not sure there are any companies of significant size still considering SMRs. Just some guys sitting at their computers trying to keep the dream alive.

      • Larmion

        Rosatom is still working on SMR in the form of the Akademik Lomonosov. In China and the west, the idea is dead and buried – as it should be.

  • Doofus Roars

    So what is the upside of nuclear energy? You started the previous paragraph with the answer yourself. Whatever imaginary or very real downsides nuclear has, and no-one claims there are none, that one tick alone in the PRO’s column is orders of magnitude more significant than everything else. And beyond being the ONLY viable solution that’s hardly the only tick in the PRO’s column now is it… Stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution. Today!

    • just_jim

      The PRO side of nuclear isn’t that it’s the only viable solution, it’s the claim that it’s the only viable solution.

      The fact is that is more expensive takes longer to get into production than renewables, and without subsidies would not be built.

      As for which is problem and which is solution, I see the problem is that the same amount of money spent on nuclear could build 2 to 4 times the production of renewables, and the renewables would be producing power several years sooner.

    • Doofus Roars

      For what it’s worth the author was the one who put it out there as a fact – and believe me it is a fact however much you wish otherwise – and then completely failed to address it or weaken it in the following paragraph. It is absolutely the only currently viable solution that that could possibly provide enough power to keep the globalized world going AND reduce greenhouse emissions.

      I don’t deny the nuclear industry has big problems, the biggest being the image it has been tarnished with by emotional and largely irrational and staggeringly dishonest fear-mongering over the decades – and all the follow-on issues you then embrace as a defense of your position.

      I’d love there to be a better global solution than coal/fossil fuels or nuclear – and I’d never suggest either of them are 100% safe and perhaps never will be. But when we don’t have viable options (and I hope fervently one day we will, but realistically there’s zero chance of that in the time frame that matters!), nuclear needs to stay on the table, and we need to both accept that fact and address the perceived and the real issues honestly and intelligently and rationally. Should we also continue to pump every cent we can afford to into renewables – absolutely! Everywhere we can. But nuclear needs to fill the enormous gulf that remains.

      Watch Pandora’s Promise the recent doco by former anti-nuclear campaigners (it’s much better than I expected it to be and a hell of an eye opener for anyone with their eye’s glued shut) – and then really get up to speed on the massive improvements in nuclear safety, the latest generation of reactors, the awful wrong turns we took in history, and the reason why people like Bill Gates are sinking serious funding into nuclear research and advocacy. Otherwise you’re just saying flying isn’t safe because biplanes used to crash back in the dark ages of aviation – or refusing to go to the doctor because you think they still try to cure people with mercury and hacksaws.

      And be honest about the massive warts that also cover all of the other alternatives – “Clean”, “renewable” or otherwise – or the even more ridiculous belief that we can ever reduce our dependency on electricity. That graph is going one direction only. You know the issues are there and they’re massive show stoppers – and you know wishful thinking falls embarrassingly short of beating down reality or even bruising it in the shins. So why keep your heads in the sand and your fingers in your ears?

      Don’t be afraid to hunt down the information that might corrupt or even shatter the beliefs you’ve probably held for decades. Read the stuff that makes you cringe at your ignorance – and then get angry! It’ll empower you to be something. Have the balls to stand up and admit you were wrong, and put the future of the planet before your ego or the temporary acceptance of your less-informed peers. Your children will thank you for it one day.

      I’m a greenie, and a scientist, and I’m no fan of the Australian Liberal party, and it irks me no end that they’re the one’s brave enough to put this on the table knowing it is potentially suicidal politically. But this issue needs to escape the realms of politics. Peter Garratt – this is your chance to right some wrongs and earn back some respect!

      A lot of awfully intelligent and caring people realise this already, and many of them have done complete 180 turns on the past views on nuclear energy, or at the very least accepted the inevitability, accepted that it’s the one shot we have at saving our collective butts. But we’re up against a wall of resistance, misinformation, ignorance and fear-mongering, and we’re running out of time!

      • Bob_Wallace

        Take your own advice.

        Take off your blinders and look closely at both nuclear and renewables and see what you find.

        Look at 1) cost per MWh, 2) time to bring on line (delays = more fossil fuel burning) and 3) relative safety.

        When we see you state “we don’t have viable options (to nuclear)” it’s extremely clear that you are massively under informed.

        • Doofus Roars

          it costs what is costs – are you seriously telling me you believe that coal can be replaced globally without nuclear?

          • Bob_Wallace

            100% certain.

          • Larmion

            And are you also 100% certain that the fastest way to replace coal entirely is by refusing to use a proven, reliable technology?

            Nobody denies that 100% renewable power is feasible and likely will happen in the distant future. However, it’s also abundantly clear that the pace of new renewable additions is not even half of what it should be to make a meaningful dent in climate change. Some nuclear on the side might bring us closer.

        • Doofus Roars

          I also very clearly stated that where alternatives are feasible then they absolutely should be used.

  • AltairIV

    “Uncertain”. Heh, heh. What an understatement. Nuclear is dead.

    Dead dead dead.

    Indeed, it has never really been able to survive on its own without massive subsidies and support from command-style governments. It’s a dead-end politically, economically, and technologically, and has no place in the new paradigm of flexible distributed renewables. Existing reactors are increasingly becoming huge white elephants, as difficult and expensive to decommission as to keep running.

    All that’s really left now is a corpse, which its supporters keep dragging around Weekend At Bernie’s style to try to convince you that there’s still something still alive behind the sunglasses.

    • Larmion

      China alone is building enough nuclear capacity to keep the industry going for a long time still – and since it has mostly managed to avoid the costly delays plagueing western attempts, it’s also a very cost-effective programme. With 28 reactors under construction and many more planned, they are single-handedly more than compensating for the decline in Europe. And then there are Russia, India, the UAE, South Korea and many others also betting heavily on nuclear.

      Many other countries are refurbishing their existing fleet, another major source of income for the nuclear industry.

      Some countries are also choosing nuclear out of necessity, Finland being a good example: hydro and biomass are fully utilized, solar has limited potential and wind resources are only half decent amongst parts of the Baltic coast.

      Nuclear isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Sure, it won’t see the explosive growth renewables see. Sure, it’s not an economical option anymore in much of the world. But it still has a place.

      As for The Hindu’s comments: installed capacity is meaningless. With nuclear having the highest capacity factor of all forms of power generation, its actual generation is still dwarfs all non-hydro renewables combined and will continue to do so for years.

      Nuclear isn’t dead. It’s past its prime, but it will hold steady for a long time still. And I’m okay with that, it’s a low carbon energy source with a good environmental and health record after all (compared to fossil fuels that is).

      • JamesWimberley

        Has China increased its nuclear targets recently, in line with the new carbon commitments? The current construction programme is large, but we are not getting signals of policymakers’ enthusiasm for massive expansion beyond it. Looks to me like “wait and see”. The Indian targets are as incredible as they have always been, and clearly don’t play a significant part in Modi’s promises of rapid rural electrification, Emphasis on rapid, which nuclear does not do at the best of times.

        • Larmion

          China did indeed increase its target in line with its goal to achieve 20%+ primary energy use from low carbon sources by 2030 (which was misrepresented here on this site several times as 20% renewables).

          They’re also spending very large sums on low-water use nuclear plants for inland use as well as leading the way on Gen 4 research, especially gas cooled reactors.

          China’s leaders often have engineering backgrounds and grew up in a country that has defined itself by vast engineering works ever since it became a unified state thousands of years ago. They are still very much in love with megaprojects and nuclear power plants fit that bill very well.

          As for India: they’ve been promising a massive nuclear rollout for decades and it’s still just a decade away. Few countries match its tradition of underdelivering on infrastructure, so nuclear isn’t going to go far there I’m afraid.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Nuclear not going ahead is not something to be feared.

            Spend that money more wisely. Get more MWh per money spent and bring no unnecessary risk into the world.

          • Larmion

            It’s not something to be afraid of if the choice was between nuclear and renewables. In India, coal is still the dominant contender unfortunately.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Coal is doomed.

            People now are recognizing that there are affordable ways to replace coal. Countries such as China and India are enjoying improving lifestyle and people are more focused on air quality. Additionally China and India enjoy less climate change denial in their governments than do the children of Mother England.

          • Larmion

            And yet, India is adding coal at a record pace. Reading this site might give you a wrong impression because it only reports renewable capacity additions, but coal capacity is still growing faster than renewables in absolute terms.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You don’t understand that huge undertakings take some time to change course?

            How long has it been since wind and solar became competitive? You expect an overnight switch away from fossil fuels?

          • Larmion

            No. I most certainly don’t expect a switch towards renewables overnight. And that is precisely why I am in favor of nuclear – for now. If even a single coal fired station can be replaced or prevented from being built by a nuclear reactor, I’ll jump for joy.

            Nuclear currently doesn’t threaten renewables. Renewables are cheaper and come first in the merit order. Nuclear displaces only fossil fuels, and that makes it worth cheering for.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I certainly don’t see any logic operating there.

            You purpose to spend more money per MWh, take years longer to drop rates of fossil fuel use, and bring the problems and risks of nuclear rather than going straight to cheaper, faster and safer?

            We can build enough wind and solar in 2015 to close one or more coal plants. We can’t build a single new reactor in 2015. It would take until well after 2020 to fire up a new reactor that we started today.

            Nuclear doesn’t threaten renewables. Nuclear eats up capital that can be more efficiently spent on renewables.

          • Larmion

            You still seem to be stuck in the mindset that nuclear and renewables are in a zero sum game: a dollar spent on a nuclear reactor would otherwise have been spent on renewables. That’s not the case: the vast majority of investment in nuclear would otherwise have gone into new fossil fuel capacity.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry, I don’t at all believe that.

            Rational decision makers are not going to build new coal if they can get their hands on NG to fill in for wind and solar.

            NG generation will be built until storage prices drop some more. Furthermore, based on US installed prices, one can install a MW of wind, a MW of solar and a MW of NG fill-in for about 2/3rds the cost of a MW of nuclear.

            Let’s not confuse ourselves thinking that countries are choosing coal over renewables. What we’re likely seeing is institutional momentum. We’re very short years into the transition and some bureaucracies change course at about the speed of cold molasses.

          • Larmion

            And yet, rational decisionmakers around the world are choosing coal. The US is exceptional in having a stable and cheap domestic NG supply; Asia, where most of the growth in new power plants is, is still choosing coal – India even more than most. Just look at the tally of plants that are under construction or that have been approved: king coal is still king.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You really have to give large institutions some time to change.

            You’re going to have to wait until countries get a significant amount of renewables on line and use them long enough to be comfortable with them. To really understand how to transition onto renewables.

            Look at China. China has gone from full tilt boogie on coal to talking about hitting peak coal in a few years and then starting to drop coal use. India is a few years behind China.

            The coal plants that are now being built were planned/started when solar was still expensive and storage was a distant dream. Wind was a lot more expensive not long ago.

          • igrandunifier

            The shills r always refer to coal when comparing the worse of the 2…

          • igrandunifier

            another shill on line? The Only way nuke power can get into a country is through corrupting the ignorant leaders, or those who r in position n fed them with propaganda of the cleanness n safeness of NPPs. Nothing can be further from the truth. That’s some of the reasons that the Nuke power industry is EVIL, many times more so than the Tobaco industry…

          • Again, it’s a matter of wealth level. The Chinese and Indians are becoming able to afford clean air. The Americans, Australians, Canadians, etc have had enough “excess” wealth that we haven’t had to do things in the most efficient way. When gas is cheap, lots of people buy SUV’s.

            This has been changing, particularly since 2008. People’s perception is that their wealth level has been falling, so there’s less and less patience with the idea of wasting billions on a nuclear plant.

          • igrandunifier

            Just because China signed the ‘intention’ does not mean they will see to the end of those planed NPP projects. As the constructions of the NPPs go on, delay n financial overrun will ineviablely follow, no exceptions. By then all renewable’s technology, n cost-reduction will zoom afead of nuke power, further rendering NPPs a passé…

        • eveee

          The targets are ambitious. The wait and see is more about build and delay. There are delays in 21 out of 27 projects and shortages of skilled labor.

        • Jenny Sommer

          Isn’ avalability for wind and solar around 99%?

          • Larmion

            Availability isn’t the same as capacity factor. A unit can be available while having a zero capacity factor (a solar panel during the polar night, as an extreme example, would have an availibility of 100% and a capacity factor of 0%).

            Typical capacity factors are around 30% for new wind and 15% for solar. Compare to 90%+ for geothermal and nuclear and high 70’s for most coal plants.

          • Jenny Sommer

            …he wrote avalability…
            What’s the CF of the French fleet?

          • Ulenspiegel

            French NPPs have according to EDF an CF of 80%.

            The global CF is around 70%.

            Offshore wind has 50%.

          • Larmion

            The EIA reports 90,3% for the US nuclear fleet.

            French reactors have a CF of ‘only’ 77% because they are used in load following mode – often idling over the weekend. When leaving planned outages out of the picture, France too gets over 90% CF.

            50% is only achieved by new farms. Denmark, which has the oldest farms, only manages 40%. Even so, offshore wind is still a tiny segment of the market. It barely lifts onshore’s average of just under 30% up.

            Not that CF is all that significant. Cost per MWh and time of production are more interesting metrics and wind wins handsomely in both departments.

          • Bob_Wallace

            90.3% for US nuclear is only 2013. US nuclear CF in 2011 was 84.3% and in 2012 it was 81.4%.

            Denmark is doing better than “only manages 40%” with its newer wind farms. (Below)

            Correct on the CF. CF is one part of the total cost calculation.

            I wouldn’t say that wind wins handsomely in the US in terms of time of production. It does a good job of delivering largely when solar doesn’t, but it’s heavier in low demand periods.

            I’d say that wind is now too cheap to refuse. And that solar is almost there. With cheap power at night and cheap power in the middle of the day any plant that needs to sell 24 hours a day and can’t match the wind/solar price is in a world of hurt.

            That means that they have to look to the morning and evening peaks to make back their losses and gain some profit. And NG, even storage, is just waiting to pick them off.

          • ADPATERSON79

            How much off-shore wind is installed ? What do the maintenance costs look like on off-shore wind? Transmission lines cost how much? Have they installed Cape Wind yet off the coast of the Kennedy compound south of Hyannisport, MA?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Offshore wind is not a mature industry, prices are falling and it’s not evident where they will stablized. The best price of the moment is 0.094 euros or 10.3 US per kWh. That price includes maintenance and transmission costs.


            At the end of 2014 there was 8,759 megawatts of offshore wind installed.

            We should soon have some US offshore wind online. The Hyannisport turbines will likely be installed, but further offshore than originally planned.

      • Neptune

        “China alone is building enough nuclear capacity to keep the industry going for a long time still – and since it has mostly managed to avoid the costly delays plagueing western attempts, it’s also a very cost-effective programme.”

        How does cost of nuclear in China compare to cost of wind and solar in China?

        • Larmion

          The WNA reports that Chinese nuclear reactors receive a wholesale price of 7 cents per kWh. This compares to 3 cent for a coal fired power station without any pollution control measures and just over 8 cents for wind. I can’t remember the figures for solar, but those are significantly higher.

          As such, nuclear is still the cheapest low carbon electricity source after hydro. However, wind and solar are becoming cheaper. Nuclear isn’t.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Where is nuclear cheaper than wind and solar? Not in the US.

          • Larmion

            In China. I would have hoped that was obvious from my first paragraph being entirely about China.

            In the west, nuclear power is indeed far more expensive than wind (but still somewhat cheaper than solar in most places).

          • Neptune

            Do you have a link?

          • Larmion

            Nuclear in China:–Nuclear-Power/

            Wind in China: (0,51-0,61 yuan is just over 8 cent in us dollar terms).

            Both figures date are current as of 2014.

            For solar, they were over 15 cents in 2010 but I can’t find any recent figures.

          • Neptune

            Ok, thanks!

          • Russell

            My understanding of the 8c wind price is what they get paid, it may be significantly higher than their actual cost.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If it costs more than 8 cents to produce then why would anyone bother building wind capacity?

            Generally FiTs are set high in order to attract a lot of new players into the game. Get a lot of activity going so that economies of scale appear.

          • Russell

            I meant the cost would be lower to build than 8c, not more.

          • Bob_Wallace

            From the Bloomberg article…

            “The current tariffs were introduced in 2009 and comprise four different levels for onshore wind farms ranging from 0.51 yuan a kilowatt-hour to 0.61 yuan a kilowatt-hour. China surpassed the U.S. a year after the tariffs were brought in to become the world’s biggest wind market. Capacity has doubled in the past three years.”

            8 cents looks to be the tariff (FiT) not the cost of production. Larmion wrote it in his comment so that it could be read as price.

          • Bob_Wallace

            His source for nuclear seems to say “In July 2013 the NDRC set a wholesale power price of CNY 0.43 per kWh (7 US cents/kWh) ” The page is very long and I got tired reading. ;o)

            I’ve got to believe that if utility solar is still close to $2/watt in the US but about $1/watt in China then Chinese solar is under 7c/kWh, that’s about what we pay but with somewhat better solar insolation.

          • Larmion

            The FIT is what the ratepayer ends up paying for. It’s 7 cents for nuclear and 8 cents for wind. Hence, nuclear is cheaper to the end user than wind. That’s all I’ve ever claimed.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The extra cost is payed through taxes. Either at the meter or with the tax bill, it has the same dampening effect on the economy.

          • Larmion

            True. However, the end result for the ratepayer is that nuclear works out cheaper than onshore wind in China (which might make it just about the only place in the world where that still holds).

      • Bob_Wallace

        I put this count together a year or so ago so it may not be totally up to date.

        Japan has just closed 54. Some may come back on line but public resistance is growing.

        Germany has just closed/is closing 17.

        The US has closed/announced 5 closures.

        Exelon has 6 reactors that have been losing money for over five years and may be closed .

        Belgium will close 3 reactors by 2015 and 4 more by 2025.

        The Philippines is converting 1 reactor to natural gas.

        Switzerland will close 1 reactor in 2019 and their other 4 by 2035.

        That’s 97 reactors closing. Even if Japan brings a few back on line and you discount closures past 2025 the number of reactors worldwide looks to be sagging.

        Just noticed. France’s closures is not included.

        As for aging reactors being refurbished, renewables are dropping costs so rapidly that I think the decision to refurbish a reactor is going to be harder.

        • Larmion

          The figures for Belgium are incorrect. The closures in 2015 have been postponed by a decade; all reactors are now scheduled to close by 2025, but there is talk of allowing the most recent ones like Doel 4 to stay open to 2035-ish.

          The US has announced 5 closures but is building 4 (2 eacht at Virgil Summer and Vogtle). Net output is expected to remain stagnant for decades to come.

          France is closing very few reactors. The only plant that is defintively going to be closed is Fessenheim.

          Counting Japan’s 54 idled reactors in your 97 is wrong; Sendai is already due for a restart and several others are expected to follow. The Japanse governments expects to reopen all plants that passed more stringent safety tests, which would be just about 30 reactors.

          In all, the true closures figure is more likely to be in the 50-60 ballpark, including France. Still highly significant of course, but a smaller capacity than is currently under construction.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Belgium 7 are scheduled to close by 2025. (Your data.) Let’s leave “talk of” off the table.

            The US is building four. Those numbers are already included in your new reactor count.

            I added on the statement about France talking about closing reactors. They are not part of the 97 total.

            I stated that some of the Japanese reactors may come back on line. (However, as Japan moves another year down the road without the service of these reactors the probability of their returning to service likely drops.)

            The nuclear industry is talking about 68 reactors ‘under construction’.

            Let’s look at my statement once more –

            “That’s 97 reactors closing. Even if Japan brings a few back on line and you discount closures past 2025 the number of reactors worldwide looks to be sagging.”

            BTW, I think the odds are quite high that Diablo Canyon and a couple of other not listed US reactors will be gone before 2025.

          • Larmion

            The number of reactors might be sagging somewhat, but total capacity certainly isn’t (most new reactors are between 1 and 1,6GW in size, the plants being closed in the 0,4-1GW size).

            And my estimate of new builds was off: it’s 71 as of 2014 (

            It would seem the number of outgoing reactors is pretty much exactly the same as the number of new builds.

          • Bob_Wallace

            97 is pretty much exactly the same as 71?

            (Your link is malfunctioning.)

          • Larmion


            Second attempt 🙂

            I thought we could agree 97 was an overestimate? On the conservative estimate that Japan restarts 25 units (it’ll be closer to 30), we’re at 72 already.

            Of course, there’ll be a few closures in France before those 71 are finished (say four units for argument’s sake), but that is compensated for by the Belgian nuclear exit delay.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s what I see you doing.

            Someone is talking about not closing the Belgium plants by 2025 but later. So we shouldn’t count the Belgium plants that are currently scheduled to close by 2025.

            But there’s speculation that 30 Japanese reactors will be restarted so we should add those to the ‘reactors coming on line’ numbers.

            That’s a thumb on one side of the scale and lifting finger under the other side.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Your (the nuclear industry’s) count of 71 includes 3 reactors under construction in Japan. For a country with a large push to close all reactors ….

            And checking your source I notice Slovakia has two reactors scheduled to close by 2025.


          • Larmion

            What ‘large push’? Japan’s government is fully behind nuclear, as are its utilities, big businesses and several opposition parties. Renewables aren’t targeted to account for more than 20% and even that is likely to be missed. The business lobby is furious at the current situation where expensive LNG is making up most of the electricity shortfal.

          • Bob_Wallace

            About 60% of Japanese citizens oppose restarting and the level of opposition is significant.

            A number of final restart decisions are made at the community level, not by the central government. Local leaders who might want to say ‘Yes’ will have to face elections in which the people who live close to that particular reactor will be the ones voting.


          • Jenny Sommer

            Belgium is a special case.

            And France is having drone problems…

          • Larmion

            Thank you for explaining my country to me 🙂

            Belgium is indeed a special case. Virtually all new capacity in the last decade have been renewables, over half of that solar that was supported by an unsustainable credit of 450 euros per MWh (!) on top of a FIT.

            No investment in new nuclear. Slower than expected investment in onshore wind. A net decrease in gas capacity. What did you expect?

            Belgium is in the unique position of killing renewables through subsidies rather than through a lack of it.

          • Larmion

            No, it’s not that ‘someone is talking about it’. The new coalition government postponed the first plant closure to 2025 and the energy minister (Ms. Marghem) has spoken in favor of postponing even that date, with the explicit support of the two largest parties in the coalition. So yes, it will happen.

            But even if we work on the assumption that 2025 is going to be respected, your tally still isn’t fair. Reactors currently under construction are due to enter service well before 2025; if we’re talking about 2025, the 71 tally must also include some reactors that have been licensed and for which construction is due to start in 2015.

            The Japanese figure is based on the current government’s targets. By working on a conservative estimate of 20, I accounted for bigger than expected local oppostion and/or further tightening of safety restrictions. Work at the Oma plant, currently under construction, is due to restart.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you wish to count reactors which might get started later then include all the US reactors which are likely to close which aren’t included in my second list.

            Here’s the thing. World nuclear reactor counts basically stopped growing in 1989. Since then numbers have been bouncing on along a 20+ year plateau. Based on plants now under construction, plants scheduled to close, and plants suspected of closing there’s no sign that the count will do anything other than continue to bounce around for a while.

            And as that has been happening nuclear has been losing production share. Since its peak nuclear has dropped back by 40%. Unless there is a fury of construction starts in the next few years that percentage of market share will continue to shrink as the world adds other types of generation.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s the long term history of world nuclear reactor counts.

            Reactor counts peaked in 2002, 5% higher than 1989 and have fallen back to 1989 levels. Or below, depending on how you count the closed Japanese reactors.

          • Bob_Wallace

            OK, taking your second attempt link I spent some time shaking out some data. This source is basically the nuclear industry’s mouthpiece so I don’t think we can accuse it of being anti-nuclear. Here’s what I found….

            Current planned closures according to the World Nuclear Association

            Armenia 1 in 2026
            Belgium 2 by 2015 and 5 more by 2025.
            Canada 4 by 2015, 10 by 2025 and 5 more by 2040.
            Finland 3 by 2040
            Germany 9 by 2025
            Hungry 2 by 2025 and 2 more by 2040
            Mexico 2 by 2040
            Netherlands 1 by 2025
            Pakistan 1 by 2025 and 1 by 2040
            Russia 1 by 2015, 23 by 2025 and 4 more by 2040
            Slovakia 2 by 2025
            South Africa 2 by 2025
            South Korea 1 by 2025 and 1 more by 2040
            Spain has 7 reactors whose license runs out before 2025. No decision to close or refurbish has been made
            Sweden 2 by 2025 and 5 more by 2040
            Switzerland 4 by 2025 and 2 more by 2040
            The Philippines is converting 1 reactor to natural gas.
            Ukraine 2 by 2015, 10 more by 2025 and 3 more by 2040
            United Kingdom 1 by 2015, 6 more by 2025, and 2 more by 2040
            United States – interesting the World Nuclear Association fails to talk about planned US closures.

            The total for reactors scheduled to close by the end of 2025 according to the World Nuclear Association is 89.


            There are seven Spanish reactors whose license will have expired but no close/refurbish decision has yet been made.

            We have one US reactor (Oyster Creek) scheduled to close in 2019. About 25% of the US reactor fleet (roughly 25) is in serious financial difficulty. Exelon has 6 reactors which have been losing money for more than five years. Diablo Canyon (California) is likely come under intense pressure to close as the rest of the coal is removed from Ca grids and the reactor’s power can be replaced with renewables. The US could lose 25 reactors over the next 10 years.

            The US also has at least 35 reactors that are 40 years old or older with several only short years behind. The decision will have to be made whether to spend the money to refurbish or close. To the extent the number that overlap with those reactors already losing money the decision will likely be to close.

      • eveee

        Chinas reactors are behind schedule.

        “What is already evident, however, is the extent of the construction delays already facing the programme: 21 of 27 of the projects are experiencing holdups ranging from a few months to two years”

        Most of Chinas built reactors are a 40 year old design that predates TMI. Not exactly encouraging given Chinas lax record with other technologies like vehicle safety and pollution.

        What happened when China attempted to build modern reactors?

        Delays and overruns.

        “By the end of 2013, the construction at the first of AP1000 at Sanmen unit 1, which had begun in March 2009, was at least two years behind schedule and 20% over budget. ”

        • Larmion

          The two year delay is largely due to post-Fukushima studies that halted construction by nearly two years. The actual construction work has so far been completed according to or ahead of schedule at virtually all reactors.

          That ’40 year old design’, the CPR, is a well tested model built in vast quantities in Europe. I trust it more than many newfangled ‘passive safety’ based ones. Also, being based on a 40 year old design doesn’t mean new safety features aren’t incorporated.

          The Taishan EPR, the most advanced design used, is on schedule. The AP1000’s are a mixed bag, but most are still on schedule.

          As for China’s nuclear safety record: it’s pretty damn good.

      • eveee

        Many of the EU countries exhibit a tendency to attempt solutions within their borders, an exercised usually doomed to failure. Their borders are too small to contain a sufficient mix of resources. EUs success will depend on cooperation between countries. Example, France will need to cooperate with Spain in connecting grid, to get power into the rest of Europe. If each country tries to go it alone, progress will be slower and more expensive. Another example, with states, is Upper Penninsula Michigans attempt to get electricity from lower Michigan rather than Wisconsin. Then there is the long delayed Tres Amigas Project to connect isolated ERCOT with West Coast and provide an east west bridge.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Speaking of subsidies –

      For all years up to the end of 2013 US taxpayers subsidized nuclear energy more than $185 billion. During the same timeframe wind and solar received about $25 billion combined.

      In 2013 nuclear produced 19.4% of all US electricity. Wind and solar produced 4.33%

      Nuclear has received 7.4x as much subsidy as wind and solar over time and yet is produced only 4.5x as much electricity in 2013. We are currently getting 1.6x more electricity per dollar subsidy with wind and solar.

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