It is often alleged that people on the left are completely responsible for the decline of nuclear energy. However, people on all sides of politics can be cautious about nuclear energy.
Cost overruns are common.
They are expensive when treated commercially. The UK Hinckley reactor has to be supported by a large electricity price, which of course distorts markets and supports other expensive, and polluting, sources of energy.
Reactors tend to take a long time to build, usually longer than estimated. So people figure, perhaps incorrectly, that they will not cut enough emissions in the time we have left to keep the temperature increase within bounds. We have about 10 years carbon budget left (and after that nothing), if we want to stay under 1.5 degrees.
- see Georgia Power’s Vogtle project: the cost has increased by 140% since construction began in 2011, and is more than six years behind schedule.
Reactors face problems with heat. They need water for cooling and, in France recently, had to be shut down because the rivers were too low and the water too hot. This is clearly a problem as global temperatures continue to rise.
The small reactors (SMRs) we have been promised for a long time seem uncertain. The Australian CSIRO recently tried to find reliable data on their energy production and cost, and failed completely. I’ve recently read an article which said that they were being used in China, and were wonderful but it had no evidence or references for its position. A report written for the Australian Conservation Foundation states.
The small reactors that do exist are in Russia and China, but these projects have been subject to serious delays and cost blowouts. While there are hopes and dreams of ramping up SMR production, the mass manufacturing facilities needed to produce the technology are found nowhere in the world.Wrong reaction: Why ‘next-generation’ nuclear is not a credible energy solution 5 October 2022: p.3
I have been told Japan has a working SMR, which uses ceramic coated fuel pellets, and is very safe. However, I have failed to find anything about this. One pro-nuclear site wrote:
Japan’s problem is that it does not have a viable SMR design that is ready to come off the drawing boards. This raises the previously unthinkable prospect of importing an SMR via licensing from a country that has one ready to go.
Japan is behind the technology eight ball in terms of developing its own SMRs. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority has no policy framework for dealing with them. In addition to being notoriously sluggish in reviewing reactor restarts, so far in its history has not reviewed and approved a single application for a new reactors of any kind or size.
Thorium Reactors failed when people initially tried to build them, and don’t seem to be much better nowadays.Japan’s PM Kishida Launches a Major Push for Nuclear Energy Neutron Bytes 27 August 2022
The Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis has reported on an as yet unbuilt set of SMRs in Utah (to be completed in 2030) being built by UAMPS (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems) and NuScale Power Corporation. It states that the original energy price was to be US$55 per MWh, but recent presentations have suggested it would be between $90-$100 per MWh, despite “an anticipated $1.4 billion subsidy from the U.S. Department of Energy and a new subsidy from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on the order of $30 per MWh”.
However there seems to be lots of government support for the idea throughout the world, and the IEA also states:
In the IEA’s global pathway to reach Net Zero Emissions by 2050, nuclear power doubles between 2020 and 2050, with construction of new plants needed in all countries that are open to the technology. Even so, by mid-century, nuclear only accounts for 8% of the global power mix, which is dominated by renewables.Nuclear power can play a major role in enabling secure transitions to low emissions energy systems 30 June 2022
Ordinary energy generation reactors lead to the capacity to build nuclear weapons, and we probably do not need more distribution of them – the world is already unstable enough.
As far as I can tell, there is still a problem with the waste, although some people say that problem has been solved, but until these imagined solutions are in standard operation we cannot tell for sure.
While they are mathematically safe and low risk, the problems when reactors do go wrong can be major and long term. The more reactors we have, the more likely we will get a major problem.
Commercial building of reactors, can lead to shortcuts and dangers, to meet deadlines and keep profit.
People generally do not want a energy producing reactor near them, so they have to be built away from residences, and that adds to costs and energy loss. They also seem to have to have water for cooling, so this also restricts where they can be built.
Where I live the Right seems to have become strongly in favor of nukes only after leaving government. This is probably because, while in opposition, they don’t risk having to say where the reactors will be established and alienating voters. While in government they did hold some inquiries which concluded that nuclear was not practicable, but they are clearly free to ignore that when they don’t have power. My guess is that, for them, it is a way of trying to inhibit renewable electricity and keep coal and gas going.
Furthermore it seems probable, although I don’t know for sure, that fossil fuel companies agitated against nuclear and slowed down research and improvements, in order to keep their monopoly on energy – this could be another reason why parties heavily dependent on fossil fuel money and sponsorship, did not promote nuclear as much as they might have done.