Is the number of nuclear power plants growing?

The nuclear renaissance has been a popular theme for articles during the last few years. The articles have focused on the supposed new growth of new nuclear plants. The term “renaissance” by the way means a “new birth” or a “re-birth”. -This is not true, says nuclear specialist Peter A. Bradford. -There is no renaissance for nuclear power.

New nuclear plants are being built, but only in a number equal to those old nuclear plants that are being closed down. The number of nuclear reactors for power production has been fairly stable ever since the Chernobyl  accident in 1986. The only country with a clear tendency to new growth is China. The growth in China is being balanced by Germany and other countries that close their nuclear reactors. The result is no net growth.

Bradford presented these data at a conference in Chelyabinsk in Russia on October 23 and 24. The conference was organized by the “Association of Lawyers of Russia” and supported by Naturvernforbundet/Friends of the Earth Norway. The overall theme for the conference was the modernization of regions of nuclear power. It focused especially on the consideration of  environmental issues in the changing legal framework of Russia.

Peter A. Bradford is an adjunct professor of the Vermont Law School in the United States. This is University where lawyers are being trained.

Bradford is also a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the US. This is the government body charged with the responsibility of overseeing the nuclear industry in the US.

Governments in many countries are worried about the increasing cost of nuclear power. Therefore they want private capital owners to invest and take the risk connected with new nuclear power plants. In reality, the risk for the investors is removed through open or hidden subsidies from the government. This is only possible if the country does not have an open market for electricity or a system of “competitive bidding” for electricity supply. This is auctions, in which large-scale generators and consumers of electricity bid on generating contracts.

Peter A. Bradford presented data which showed that no new reactors have been built or have started construction in countries that has a system for competitive bidding. In the USA, each state within the federation organize their own electricity supply. In states with competitive bidding, no new nuclear reactors have been started since the introduction of competitive bidding.

Mr. Bradford drew the conclusion from these data that new nuclear reactors cannot compete with other types of power generation in an open and fair electricity market.

-Private investors need different sorts of government subsidies or guarantees against financial losses if they should invest in a new nuclear power plant , said Bradford. -Without such government guarantees, the risk connected with the investment is too big.

These two themes were just a few of the many aspects of the environmental considerations regulated by law in Russia and elsewhere.

A representative for Japanese Non-governmental organizations against nuclear power, Ms. Junko Abe, talked about the Fukushima accident. The Japanese people have traditionally trusted their government, she said. But this trust has been abused because the government have not provided  honest and open information. The nuclear reactors in Fukushima were damaged first by the violent and destructive earthquake and the by even worse floodwave or tsunami that followed. This has led to the spread of radioactive material. First the government denied that an accident had happened, and then it did not tell the truth, according to Ms. Abe.

-This lack of information and the lack of honesty have made me very angry, said Ms.Abe.

Two representatives in the German Parliament, the Bundestag, participated in the conference. Ms. Johanna Voss from the Left Party (die Linke) presented the possibilities and challenges connected with the German phase-out of nuclear power. Her message was clear.

-Covering the German need for energy from mainly renewable energy sources is possible, if not easy, said Johanna Voss. -Nuclear power is not an absolutely necessary part of the future German energy supply.

Ms. Sylvia Kotting-Uhl from the Green Party is leading her party`s fraction in the committee for nuclear issues in the Bundestag. She spoke about the time-table for the phase-out. Her message was that the phase-out is irrevocable.

-A reversal of the decision is not possible, for political as well as technical reasons, was Kotting-Uhls message. - All the biggest political parties have agreed on a phase-out, so a new government would not change the decision.

Germany is a prosperous, technically advanced country. If the Germans do not think that nuclear power is safe,  it sends a powerful message to other governments.

Artikkelen ble sist oppdatert: 28.11.2011