With wind power filling the energy gap left by shutdown nuclear reactors in the UK, and police investigating allegations of sabotage at a reactor in Belgium, the myth of "reliable" nuclear energy is being exposed like never before.
The nuclear industry tells us that nuclear power is a reliable energy source, that it offers "energy security". Tell that to Belgium and the UK who are seeing significant parts of their nuclear fleet shutdown.
It's been confirmed that the major damage that shut down Belgium's Doel 4 reactor was caused by sabotage. Meanwhile, cracks found in two other reactors – Tihange 2 and Doel 3 - means they may never reopen. The three reactors make up over half of the country's nuclear power output.
(Worryingly, there are 22 other reactors around the world that share the same design as Tihange 2 and Doel 3.)
In the UK, four nuclear reactors – at Heysham and Hartlepool – are out of action while defects are investigated.
There have previously been issues with nuclear power plants being closed in EU and USA at times of drought because of water shortages.
What fills the energy gap while these "reliable" nuclear reactors are shut down?
Belgium is having to rely on electricity from its neighbours. So much for nuclear power giving the country energy security.
In the UK, things are much more optimistic. Renewable energy has come to the rescue. "Demand is low at this time of year, and a lot of wind power is being generated right now," said the UK's National Grid. Electricity supplies have been unaffected.
What lessons can we learn here?
Firstly, the idea that nuclear power is a reliable energy source that offers energy security is a myth, particularly in a world where aging nuclear reactors are coming to the end of their lives.
Secondly, we see a reversal of the view that renewables need to be supported by nuclear power. Although nuclear and wind power do not have the same generation characteristics, nuclear reactors now needing to lean on renewables means the nuclear industry has a big problem.
More and more nuclear reactors will be closing in the coming years as they reach retirement age. The nuclear industry simply can't build replacement reactors quickly or cheaply enough to fill the gap.
That's a gap that renewables and energy efficiency can exploit safely and reliably. As the recently released 2014 World Nuclear Industry Status Report says…
[B]ig thermal plants running whenever they're available are replaced by cheaper-to-run portfolios of renewables, mostly variable renewables, that add up to "virtual baseload" supply—collectively providing reliable electricity from a shifting mix of resources. This way of operating the grid is analogous to a symphony orchestra (as Rocky Mountain Institute's Clay Stranger puts it): no instrument plays all the time, but with a good score and conductor, beautiful music is continuously produced. This approach is unfamiliar to traditional utilities, but it works.
The wind across the UK is playing some beautiful music right now.
Here we have yet more reasons to abandon nuclear power. It's not reliable and does not guarantee energy security. It's not your friend and is going to let you down sooner or later.
Justin McKeating is a nuclear blogger for Greenpeace International, based in the UK.