What is the future of nuclear power?

September 15th, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017 (WNISR2017) provides a comprehensive overview of nuclear power plant data, including information on operation, production and construction. The WNISR2017 assesses the status of new-build programmes in current nuclear countries as well as in potential newcomer countries.

This is the Introduction to the report. Click here to download the full report

Since we released the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016 (WNISR2016) in Tokyo, in July 2016, potentially seismic shifts have occurred inside and outside the nuclear industry.

First, on the political level. Some sort of “regime change” occurred in some key (nuclear power) countries. Incoming Presidents in France (Emmanuel Macron), South Korea (Moon Jae-in) and the United States of America (Donald Trump), representing three of the top-five nuclear electricity generators in the world, all brought along a distinctly different energy agenda than their predecessors. In addition, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzō Abe recently implemented a surprising cabinet reshuffle.

Then, on the industrial level, with bankruptcies of the largest historic nuclear builder in the world, Toshiba-Westinghouse and its French equivalent AREVA. The long-awaited go-ahead for the controversial Hinkley Point C in the UK and the shock of the abandoned V.C. Summer construction project in South Carolina, US, while depressed wholesale market-prices continue to challenge the competitiveness even of amortised nuclear reactors around the world.

Third, there is the ongoing surge in renewable energy deployment around the world, beating out nuclear power everywhere. This is best illustrated by developments in China, currently the global leader in nuclear power plant construction by a wide margin, where only one new 1 GW nuclear reactor was added to the grid in the first half of 2017.

During the same period, 24,4 GW of solar capacity came on-line. An additional 10,5 GW of solar photovoltaics (PV) began generating power in the month of July 2017 alone. Compare this to 2012, barely five years ago, when Germany set the world record with 7,5 GW of photovoltaic capacity added in a whole year. Current projections are that by the end of 2017, solar PV capacity will rival nuclear. By 2022, it could more than double nuclear capacity.

What will the new governments change for the nuclear and energy sectors?

The Macron administration vows to implement the energy transition legislation inherited from its predecessor and design a pathway towards the 2025-goal to reduce the nuclear share in power production from about three quarters to one half. With electricity consumption stagnating or dropping, there is no doubt what that means: Shutting down at least one third of France’s nuclear fleet of 58 reactors.

South Korea’s new President Moon was in office for less than a month before he presided over a highly symbolic shutdown ceremony for Korea’s oldest nuclear reactor, stating that the country will scrap the nuclear-centered policies and move toward a nuclear-free era. It will eliminate all plans to build new nuclear plants, he says. Moon has studied the issue intensively. The move represents a radical shift from the previous government, but is de facto an “alignment” (as local key stakeholders put it) with the successful Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

In 2012, Park launched his emblematic “One Less Nuclear Power Plant Plan”, vowing to reduce or substitute the consumption of his city to equal the output of a nuclear reactor by 2014. He succeeded, and doubled the substitution target level for 2020.

President Trump has made some announcements in the past giving his strong support for nuclear power. However, his administration turned down calls for subsidies to help the troubled V.C. Summer construction project in South Carolina. As a consequence, the utilities pulled the plug on the failed industrial project that has been subject to delays and budget overrides ever since it got underway in 2013.

Now, the only remaining construction project in the US is the Vogtle plant in Georgia, which is comparable to the V.C. Summer project in terms of planning, implementing and financial problems.

At the end of August 2017, Georgia Power has recommended the completion of the two AP1000 reactors, in spite of vast cost overruns. After four years of construction, at a time when the plant was originally scheduled to start operating, the project is only 32% completed. The fate of the plant now rests with the state’s Public Service Commission, which will conduct a six-month review before deciding.

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, struggling with a range of domestic policy issues and falling public approval, announced a wide-ranging reorganisation of his government. Most significant for nuclear power, this reorganisation includes the appointment of Taro Kono – the most outspoken nuclear critic in the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – as Foreign Minister.

Only five reactors have restarted in Japan that had seen its entire nuclear fleet stranded with no nuclear power generation in 2014. Kono’s appointment is also a blow to the Japanese industry’s ambitions to export nuclear equipment.

The 2017 edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) provides in-depth analysis of the nuclear sectors and the implications of recent industrial and political developments in the Focus-Country chapters on France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US as part of the main report.

Developments in the 25 other nuclear countries are covered in Annex 1. The WNISR2017 also introduces a new section devoted to the financial assessment of the nuclear sector and a selection of key companies.

This is the Introduction to the report. Click here to download the full report

Acknowledgement

This Introduction is published here with permission.

Contact Mycle Schneider, mycle@worldnuclearreport.org

 

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