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Fri Apr 27, 2012, 03:29 PM

The dream that failed - The Economist on Nuclear Power

The dream that failed
A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety

Mar 10th 2012 | from the print edition

THE enormous power tucked away in the atomic nucleus, the chemist Frederick Soddy rhapsodised in 1908, could “transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling Garden of Eden.” Militarily, that power has threatened the opposite, with its ability to make deserts out of gardens on an unparalleled scale. Idealists hoped that, in civil garb, it might redress the balance, providing a cheap, plentiful, reliable and safe source of electricity for centuries to come. But it has not. Nor does it soon seem likely to.

Looking at nuclear power 26 years ago, this newspaper observed that the way forward for a somewhat moribund nuclear industry was “to get plenty of nuclear plants built, and then to accumulate, year after year, a record of no deaths, no serious accidents—and no dispute that the result is cheaper energy.” It was a fair assessment; but our conclusion that the industry was “safe as a chocolate factory” proved something of a hostage to fortune. Less than a month later one of the reactors at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine ran out of control and exploded, killing the workers there at the time and some of those sent in to clean up afterwards, spreading contamination far and wide, leaving a swathe of countryside uninhabitable and tens of thousands banished from their homes. The harm done by radiation remains unknown to this day; the stress and anguish of the displaced has been plain to see.

et tu Japan
Then, 25 years later, when enough time had passed for some to be talking of a “nuclear renaissance”, it happened again (see article). The bureaucrats, politicians and industrialists of what has been called Japan’s “nuclear village” were not unaccountable apparatchiks in a decaying authoritarian state like those that bore the guilt of Chernobyl; they had responsibilities to voters, to shareholders, to society. And still they allowed their enthusiasm for nuclear power to shelter weak regulation, safety systems that failed to work and a culpable ignorance of the tectonic risks the reactors faced, all the while blithely promulgating a myth of nuclear safety.

Not all democracies do things so poorly. But nuclear power is about to become less and less a creature of democracies. The biggest investment in it on the horizon is in China—not because China is taking a great bet on nuclear, but because even a modest level of interest in such a huge economy is big by the standards of almost everyone else. China’s regulatory system is likely to be overhauled in response to Fukushima. Some of its new plants are of the most modern, and purportedly safest, design. But safety requires more than good engineering. It takes independent regulation, and a meticulous, self-critical safety culture that endlessly searches for risks it might have missed. These are not things that China (or Russia, which also plans to build a fair few plants) has yet shown it can provide.

In any country independent regulation is harder when the industry being regulated exists largely by government fiat...


This being the Economist they, of course, barely mention renewables and omit that option entirely as a consideration in the economics of nuclear or carbon.

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Reply The dream that failed - The Economist on Nuclear Power (Original post)
kristopher Apr 2012 OP
TheWraith Apr 2012 #1
DCKit Apr 2012 #2
AndyTiedye Apr 2012 #3
kristopher Apr 2012 #4

Response to kristopher (Original post)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 03:38 PM

1. Because they know that nuclear is the primary enemy of coal.

They don't have to do much to fight renewables, because those aren't actually phasing out coal plants. See Germany as a perfect example, where their "switch to renewable power" has resulted in a vast increase in the use of coal.

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Response to TheWraith (Reply #1)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 04:05 PM

2. Yet, somehow, Germany's emissions still declined.


Angela M. is a witch!

Of course, it could also be that Germany gets 20% of their electricity from renewables. But c'mon, how likely is that?

Thanks for the giggle.

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Response to TheWraith (Reply #1)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 04:19 PM

3. Yet Germany's Carbon Emissions are Going Down

If you look at the most recent emissions data, however, the opposite is happening. Germany reduced its carbon emissions in 2011 by 2.1 percent despite the nuclear phase out. How can that be?

The cut in greenhouse gases was mainly reached due to an accelerated transition to renewable energies and a warm winter. In addition, the EU emissions trading system capped all emissions from the power sector. While eight nuclear power plants were shut down, solar power output increased by 60 percent. In 2011 alone, 7.5 gigawatts of solar were installed. By the end of last year, renewable energies provided more than 20 percent of overall electricity.


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Response to AndyTiedye (Reply #3)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 05:37 PM

4. Meanwhile with 100+nuclear reactors our GHG emissions went up 3% in 2011.

That article is very good response to the nuclear industry's talking points on Germany. Thanks for toting it over here, I hope people read it.

Another very good 2 part article on the German path is here:
The term “Energiewende” is often translated as “energy turnaround,” which might be a valid translation, but it falls (very) short of capturing the true meaning. The term was originally coined by an environmentalist think-tank back in 1980. It originally described the complete transformation from an fossil- and nuclear-based economy to a 100% renewable-energy-based economy.

The word “Wende” describes a significant social-political change and is commonly used as a synonym for the peaceful revolution that took place in East Germany during the years of 1989/90 and led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification. So, it seems to be safe to say that a more accurate translation of “Energiewende” is “Energy Revolution.”

One doesn’t have to be an expert of German politics or history to understand that a “revolution” (of any sort) isn’t exactly the kind of thing that a conservative government would usually encourage, envison, or actually understand at all...
Source: Clean Technica http://s.tt/18T9R

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