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Nuclear renaissance was just a fairy tale via The Guardian

The promise of cheap, low-carbon power – with 31 new reactors in the US – was based on rhetoric and obedience. Anyone who doubts that should read the new status report on the industry

Nuclear power requires obedience, not transparency. The gap between nuclear rhetoric and nuclear reality has been a fundamental impediment to wise energy policy decisions for half a century now.

For various reasons, in many nations the nuclear industry cannot tell the truth about its progress, its promise or its perils. Its backers in government and in academia do no better.

Rhetorical excess from opponents of nuclear power contributes to the fog, but proponents have by far the heavier artillery. In the US, during the rise and fall of the bubble formerly known as “the nuclear renaissance”, many of the proponents’ tools have been on full display.

Academic and governmental studies a decade ago understated the likely cost of new reactors and overstated their potential contribution to fighting climate change. By 2006, a few US state legislatures had been enticed to expose utility customers to all the risks of building new reactors. Industry-sponsored conferences persuaded businesses and newspapers of an imminent jobs bonanza, ignoring job losses resulting from high electric rates and passing up cheaper, more labour-intensive alternatives. These local groups added to the pressure on Congress for more subsidies.

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As always in the face of failure, the industry puts forth new designs as a basis for new promises, now touting small modular reactors with the same fervour with which it touted large, partially modular reactors a decade ago. Congress finds a few hundred million to preserve these dreams even as its cutbacks shatter so many others.

A new movie, Pandora’s Promise (no film-maker familiar with nuclear history would include “promise” in a title intended to be pronuclear), recently screened at Sundance.Featuring the same old converts and straw men, it opened in cinemas a few weeks ago to tiny audiences and generally unenthusiastic reviews, especially from reviewers knowledgeable about nuclear power.

In the astonishing persistence of the global appetite for false nuclear promises lies the critical importance of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, published on Thursday.

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