Power Week - Nuclear

A hundred and sixty thousand people made homeless, with limited compensation and the prospect for many tens of thousands of never returning to their former homes.

That's not the cost of a war, but of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. The financial cost alone could well be more than half a trillion dollars.

Broken lives and contaminated land. Is that the future we want in order to keep the lights on?

The nuclear power industry wants to think so, especially with the world waking up to the climate-related dangers of fossil fuels. It's trying to use climate change as an excuse to save and even expand its ailing business.

Most of the reactors which are operating in Europe, the US, Russia and Japan are coming to the end of their lives. No precise cost is known – but decommissioning costs could well reach $ 200 billion over the next 25 years. Even the International Energy Agency, which promotes nuclear power, says there are lots of uncertainties about how much the final bill will be.

New nuclear power stations routinely go way over budget and behind schedule during construction, locking consumers into higher energy bills.

And then there's the environmental cost. The world has built more than 430 commercial nuclear reactors since the start of the nuclear era, and we still don't know how to deal with the waste. There is more than 350 thousand tonnes of spent nuclear fuel rods, highly reactive and with a very long half-life – which means it will remain a threat for thousands of years. And yet, to date, no country has built a permanent facility to store it safely.

It's hard to think of anything more reckless.

The nuclear industry is in trouble. Globally it has been in decline for two decades – currently producing less than 11% of the world's electricity – and 4.4% of primary energy. That's the lowest since 1984.  

France (the European country which relies most on nuclear energy) has committed to reducing its share from 75% to 50% by 2025; Germany has committed to a complete phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022; and Japan's nuclear industry remains in crisis after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011, with one reactor operating and 42 shutdown.

The nuclear industry must not be allowed to use climate change to resurrect its business. Nuclear is not the answer to the phase-out of fossil fuels.

We should not be conned into accepting one environmental threat on the premise that it will avert another, when a future free of both nuclear and dangerous climate change is possible through the speedy deployment and development of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency.


  • "350,000 tonnes of highly-radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods - and nowhere to permanently store it. The true cost and legacy of nuclear energy"

Joanna Mills is a Communications Strategist for Greenpeace International.