Greek myth tells of the proud and arrogant king Sisyphus who, after trying to cheat death, was forced by the Gods to roll a giant boulder up a hill. When he reached the top of the hill, the boulder would roll back to the bottom and Sisyphus would have to begin again. For all eternity.
The nuclear industry must know how he felt. Just when it thinks it’s getting somewhere, the industry finds itself back at square one. So much effort and futility for so little gain.
And the nuclear boulders are thundering downhill once again all over the world.
In the US, four nuclear power plants have closed or will close early, plans for new reactors are being trashed, permits for new reactors and reactor upgrades have been blocked until the intractable problem of nuclear waste is assessed, and the cost overruns on reactors currently under construction are running into the billions.
In Japan, the country is nuclear free again, with all its nuclear reactors are offline with no sign of when any of them might be turned on again. The two reactors at Fukushima that weren’t destroyed in the March 2011 disaster are to be scrapped. Prime Minister Abe won the bid to host the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo by saying the never-ending crisis at Fukushima is “under control”. Except nobody believes him and people are queuing up to contradict him.
In the UK, the nuclear industry is struggling desperately to find financing for a new fleet of reactors. Despite vowing that there would be no public subsidy for new nuclear power, the current Coalition government wants to bring in a subsidy by the back door buy guaranteeing a fixed price for the electricity generated by any new reactors. The generators want to be paid for the electricity they produce whether it’s needed or not. It’s a move that would mean billions in profits for the likes of EdF while the public pays the bill. Other companies have pulled out with China or Russia looking to fill the gap. So much for nuclear power providing energy security.
In Finland and France, new nuclear reactors under construction continue to run billions over budget and years behind schedule.
In Canada, the nuclear companies are fighting to avoid their responsibilities in the event of a nuclear accident. One even expressly stated it wanted to avoid the fate of Union Carbide after the company was sued in the US courts after the Bhopal chemical disaster in India that killed thousands of people in 1984.
I could go on and on and on.
Like Sisyphus, the nuclear industry is dead - it just refuses to admit it. Here’s the difference though: Sisyphus’s boulder was designed to punish nobody but him. By continuing to needlessly, futilely push its boulder uphill, only to see it slide back down every time, the nuclear industry punishes the rest of us as well.
Think of all the time, energy, money and resources squandered on nuclear power in the past, present and (if the industry gets its way) future.
Imagine how all the time, energy, money and resources could have been and could be used. Energy saving programmes that would hugely reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Renewable energy solutions like wind and solar that can be deployed right now without waiting until 2020 or 2030 or whenever it is new nuclear reactors will be ready.
Energy efficiency and renewables are much smaller and lighter boulders to move. They are much more easily rolled up hill and we can all lend a hand. The view from the top will be spectacular.