Running in reverse: the world’s ‘nuclear power renaissance’ via Ecologist

The global rebirth of nuclear power was meant to be well under way by now, writes Jim Green. But in fact, nuclear’s share of world power generation is on a steady long term decline, and new reactors are getting ever harder to build, and finance. The only real growth area is decommissioning, but that too has a problem: where’s the money to pay for it?

The UK’s planned Hinkley C nuclear plant is looking increasingly like a dead duck – or possibly parrot.

As the Financial Times reports today, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has abandoned plans to examine the ‘value of money’ Hinkley C offers taxpayers – because no deal has been reached and none is expected before the general election in May.

In other words, all that bullish talk about Hinkley C launching Britain’s ‘nuclear renaissance’ has melted away like a spring frost in the morning sun.


In the other three countries supposedly driving a nuclear renaissance – Russia, South Korea and India – growth is likely to be modest and slow.

Russia has 34 operating reactors and nine under construction. Just three reactors began operating in the past decade and the pattern of slow growth is likely to continue. As for Russia’s ambitious nuclear export program, Steve Kidd noted in October 2014 that it “is reasonable to suggest that it is highly unlikely that Russia will succeed in carrying out even half of the projects in which it claims to be closely involved”.

South Korea has 23 operating reactors, five under construction and eight planned. Earlier plans for rapid nuclear expansion in South Korea have been derailed by the Fukushima disaster, a major scandal over forged safety documents, and a hacking attack on Korea Hydro’s computer network.

India has 21 operating reactors, six under construction and 22 planned. But India’s nuclear program is in a “deep freeze” according to a November 2014 article in the Hindustan Times.

Likewise, India Todayreported on January 8: “The Indian nuclear programme is on the brink of distress. For the past four years, no major tender has gone through – a period that was, ironically, supposed to mark the beginning of an Indian nuclear renaissance in the aftermath of the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal.”



Greenpeace highlighted the problems associated with ageing reactors with the release of a detailed report last year, and emphasised the point by breaking into six ageing European nuclear plants on 5 March 2014.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its World Energy Outlook 2014report: “A wave of retirements of ageing nuclear reactors is approaching: almost 200 of the 434 reactors operating at the end of 2013 are retired in the period to 2040, with the vast majority in the European Union, the United States, Russia and Japan.”

A growing problem – underfunded nuclear decommissioning

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said: “Worldwide, we do not have much experience and I am afraid we are not well-prepared in terms of policies and funds which are devoted to decommissioning. A major concern for all of us is how we are going to deal with this massive surge in retirements in nuclear power plants.”

The World Energy Outlook 2014 report estimates the cost of decommissioning reactors to be more than US$100 billion up to 2040. The IEA’s head of power generation analysis, Marco Baroni, said that even excluding waste disposal costs, the final cost could be as much as twice as high as the $100 billion estimate, and that decommissioning costs per reactor can vary by a factor of four.

Baroni said the issue was not the decommissioning cost per reactor but “whether enough funds have been set aside to provide for it.” Evidence of inadequate decommissioning funds is mounting.

To give just one example, Entergy estimates a cost of US$1.24 billion to decommission Vermont Yankee, but the company’s decommissioning trust fund for the plant – US$ 670 million – is barely half that amount. As Michael Mariotte, President of the US Nuclear Information & Resource Service, noted in a recent article:

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