‘Clean, safe and cheap’, that’s how energy produced by nuclear reactors is described by the industry’s cheerleaders. Unfortunately, with incidents like last week’s leak at France’s Tricastin nuclear site giving lie to the ‘clean and safe’ parts of the argument, the claims of nuclear being ‘cheap’ are also being showed up to be increasingly ridiculous.
Rocketing cost overruns and delays in construction are all too common features of the nuclear industry. According to a report by independent researchers Worldwatch Institute, 12 of the 34 reactors currently being built across the world have been under construction for 20 years or more. Estimated costs of building a Westinghouse reactor have doubled to $12-18 billion.
So, we have to ask the question, despite the likes of Gordon Brown’s and Angela Merkel’s seemingly unshakeable faith in the power of nuclear to save us all, is the world going cold on the idea? The growth in the output from nuclear power in 2007 was absolutely pitiful: a mere tenth of the output from newly-installed wind turbines. The United States has not commissioned any new nuclear power stations in the last 29 years.
The Worldwatch Institute report is full of jaw-dropping facts and we recommend reading it. . The same problems of substandard welding in the steel lining that have delayed the construction of France’s first EPR site have also been found in reactors being built in China and Taiwan. Construction has been delayed for a year in China and five years in Taiwan, adding to the spiralling costs.
Surging steel prices are eating subcontractors’ profits. Wall Street’s Moody’s credit rating agency has stated it believes investment in the nuclear industry could wreck corporations’ credit ratings. The likes of Gordon Brown, whose ludicrous hope is that the private sector will build up to 1,000 new reactors worldwide, are going to have to offer significant tax-payer funded inducements and concessions to attract risk-averse and profit-hungry companies. Again, all ramping up the overall costs of nuclear build.
The industry’s PR men might still peddle the line about nuclear’s clean, safe and cheap industry. But instead of queuing up for a piece of the action, there’s evidence that private companies are dashing away in the opposite direction.