Yet more news in the past week about how bad an investment nuclear power is. In Bulgaria a plan to build a nuclear power plant was cancelled while in the UK plans to build two new plants were thrown into chaos.
First, on March 28, the Bulgarian government announced it was cancelling the Belene nuclear power plant, construction of which began way back in 1981. This brings to a successful close 10 years of resistance to this bad idea. There were death threats against one of the key activists, Albena Simeonova, legal actions, and the involvement of hundreds of activists, volunteers, citizens, experts, politicians and civil servants.
The Bulgarian project finally collapsed over the issue of its cost. The Russian company Rosatom, the plant’s builders, said Belene would cost €6.3 billion. The government said it was unwilling to pay more than €5 bn and so, unable to attract western investment, it pulled the plug.
The very next day the UK’s plans for its own nuclear “renaissance” were hit by the German utilities RWE and E.ON pulling out of the consortium planning to build two new nuclear power plants at Oldbury and Wylfa. The companies expressed “doubts over financing the projects and costs associated with the German government's decision to abandon nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.” This follows French energy giant EDF cancelling another nuclear project just two weeks ago.
Belene and the RWE/E.ON decisions are yet two more examples of how the economics of nuclear power are broken. Since the costs of building new reactors are massive, private investors aren’t interested in the risks.
The long list of nuclear reactor projects cancelled due to lack of financing and shoddy economics just got longer. It has been this way for decades. Even back in the 1970s and 1980s – supposedly the boom years for nuclear power – “half of planned nuclear reactors had to be abandoned or cancelled due to massive cost overruns”.
The Economist, not exactly a hot bed of anti-nuke hippies, calls nuclear power “the dream that failed”. And Citigroup, hardly a bunch of greenies, calls nuclear power a “corporate killer”. Who’s listening to these warnings? Unfortunately, not the Bulgarian government who are now diverting resources from Belene to the Kozloduy nuclear power plant or the UK government which is frantically looking for companies to replace RWE and E.ON.
When will these new reactors be built? You guess is as good as ours. One thing that can be said for certain is that their costs will sky rocket and the time taken to build them extend into the next decade.
In Japan, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and some members of Japan’s ruling Democratic Party, is starting a group to figure out how to end the country’s reliance on nuclear energy. Kan, who worked on ending the use of nuclear power in Japan while in power, was the prime minister at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Clearly, he and his colleagues have learned the lesson of Fukushima.
As we can’t repeat enough, it doesn’t have to be this way. Renewable technologies and energy efficiency measures can address energy issues right now, at affordable prices and safely. On Monday, we learned that CO₂ emissions were down in Germany in 2011, even though the country had strong economic growth and closed down eight nuclear power plants. More electricity production from the renewable energy sector was a factor in the drop in emissions.
As Germany is showing, we don’t need to wait to increase renewable energy. Solar and wind power are increasing in their efficiency while their costs are falling every day. And, unlike nuclear, they are attracting investment and creating jobs.