Nuclear Power Plants

The nuclear power renaissance most probably will never happen

This is a table showing the number of nuclear reactors in the world connected to the grid by 31 Dec 2012, grouped by decades:

Completed Reactors1963-19721973-19821983-19921993-20022003-2012
World86 (31GW)184 (143GW)184 (177GW)51 (44GW)31 (24GW)
Eropean Union42 (11GW)67 (52GW)76 (75GW)11 (12GW)1 (0.6GW)
United States25 (14GW)54 (49GW)39 (44GW)2 (2.3GW)0 (0.0GW)

The table shows that there are no new reactors in US connected to the grid in the last decade. The situation in EU is very similar to that in US. There is only one nuclear reactor in Romania connected in 2007 - Cernavoda 2. The construction of that reactor was started in 1984 and continued 23 years.

The investments for a new nuclear reactor however should be arranged about 10 years before its completion, which means the collapse of nuclear power in EU and US started actually not 10, but about 20 years ago.

How many are 31 reactors for a decade in the world? Not many, at all.
  • There are 437 operating reactors in the world at the moment. Building them at speed 31 per decade, it would take 140 years till the year 2152 to replace all of them.
  • Only in 2011 and 2012, the global wind energy capacity which was connected to the grid, was 86GW. If we assume capacity factor for nuclear power 85% and 23% for wind power, we can say that 86W wind power can produce as much electricity as 24GW nuclear power, or the wind power built only in the last two years can produce the electricity of all nuclear reactors connected to the grid in the last decade.

  • What are the reasons for that situation?

  • the cost of nuclear power is vary high already.
  • The nuclear lobby is trying to convince us that nuclear power is very cheap. There is a myth, that people in US and EU have lots of money and they are willing to pay high prices for electricity, because they are crazy for their ecology and safety. The fake impression that a new nuclear power plant (NPP) can provide cheap energy is very wrong. That kind of electricity was cheap 30 years ago. NPPs which were built 30 years ago still provide cheap electricity, but that is not the case for the new NPPs.
    How much does electricity from a new NPP cost? It is difficult to say. We should define at first what is a new NPP. Is it new according to the date when the project was started or when the construction was started or when it was connected to the grid? There are also many other variables which determine the cost like how long the construction will take, location in the world, discount rate, different technologies, labor and fuel cost, etc. The nuclear power cost for new plants according to different sources quite often is around 100EUR/MWe. The power prices at the exchanges in US and EU where the power is traded hasn't changed much for the last 10 years and it is quite often around 60EUR/1MWe during the day and 3 times lower during the night. That means the power from new nuclear plants is not competitive anymore and explains at first place why it is almost impossible to find private investors for new NPPs. The recent government programs in US, UK and many other countries for new nuclear power plants, based on private investments just collapsed. We are not going to discuss here even the issue that NPP get often hidden subsidies from the governments like complete insurance for a major accident, best rate loans, cheap radioactive waste disposal, etc.

  • the nuclear lobby talks often about low prices and big profits at the start of a NPP project, but that price quite often goes over the budget twice higher. That is the case with the new reactors Flamanville-3 in France and Olkiluoto-3 in Finland. Both of them are at least 4 years late and 100-120% over budget.

  • the nuclear projects are very complicated and it takes 10-15 years to be completed. For many political and financial reasons, however they can not get completed for more then 20 years and some of them never get completed, which is a huge financial loss. Watts Bar-2 in US was started in 1973, it is completed 55% and it is still in the database of the nuclear lobby with a status "under construction", probably to advertise the nuclear power and show us that even in US there are NPPs in a phase of "intensive construction"

  • the financial risk is too high, even if NPP is completed on time and on budget, because of the huge investments in a nuclear reactor and because it is very difficult to predict from 15 to 60 years ahead the market power prices, the demand, the discount rate and the development of new technologies. The nuclear lobby say "we know, the prices and the demand are going permanently higher". But that is not the case for the last decade in US and EU. Because of the shale gas and other new technologies the prices can go really even lower. The return on investments is also very slow, if the investors are lucky to get any profit at all.

  • after Fukushima Nuclear Accident at 11 April 2011, the safety of nuclear power was compromised. New requirement for building NPP took place and they became even more expensive.

  • the physical risk is high and it should not be underestimated. Nuclear power provide 13.5% of the electricity in the world at the moment and there were two huge accidents. What about if the world decide to triple that share to 40%? Let's scale the numbers. Is it possible the world to survive 6 more nuclear accidents like in Fukushima or Chernobyl?

  • at price 100EUR/MWe, the nuclear power is already more expensive with 15% then the "expensive" wind energy Some wind farms in Brazil and China generate power already at cost $60/MWe, price unreachable for a new NPP. The prices for nuclear reactors for the last 20-30 years are getting higher and higher, because of the steel, the precious metals, the labor, the increased safety requirements, etc. and the chance nuclear reactors to get cheaper is almost zero.

  • the cost of 100EUR/MWe is very close to the cost of photovoltaic power and it is already higher in some countries with more solar radiation. The prices for the PV panels dropped at least 3 times for the last 4 years. At the same time, for the last ten years the price for new nuclear reactors went up 3 times. The nuclear lobby often claim that the PV power need too much land, which is completely wrong. The PV power does not need more land then the nuclear power and it can be placed nearby the load, in any size and at any land and roofs. Less then 2% of the land in the world covered with PV panels can provide 100% of the whole power generated today.

  • it looks like the only advantage left of the nuclear power compared to PV and wind power is the consistency. That advantage was completely suppressed from the shale gas revolution in US. Natural gas power stations can provide not only consistent power but they can start and stop in a moment which is impossible for NPPs. They are very cheap to be built in any size nearby the load, very safe and clean. The reserves in the world of the conventional and the unconventional natural gas could last for 250 years at current consumption rates and probably only 50 years would be enough the power from renewable resources to replace the conventional power.

  • there are plenty of new renewable power industries. The geothermal power takes only 0.5% share in the world energy mix today, but with the recent development of the Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), where the heat in the Earth can be used even if there is no thermal water, the geothermal power can pick up the speed of installing wind power pretty soon. That is consistent power and in theory can provide 100% of the world electricity. The other type of renewable energy like hydropower, biofuel, tides, waves, etc. do not help the nuclear power renaissance either.