Nuclear Industry’s Dead Cat Bounce

We urgently need a Plan B for UK Energy Policy, says Nick Butler in the Financial Times. With Toshiba and Engie likely to withdraw from the Moorside project the UK’s plans to make new nuclear the core of future energy supply has a serious problem. Hinkley Point and Sizewell are both still in doubt because a new French government after elections in May could decide that subsidies to EDF are unsustainable. EDF is deeply indebted and its finances have continued to deteriorate since its finance director, Thomas Piquemal, resigned last spring. A recapitalisation of the company is essential and for that to succeed drastic change is necessary. And questions around the technical integrity of the EPR reactor and the ability of the company to complete a construction project remain unresolved. Delays to the nuclear programme now look almost certain and these will be compounded by Britain’s decision to leave Euratom.

Butler says Hitachi, which wants to build an ABWR at Wylfa, looks to be in better shape, and the technology is simpler. But the financing of the construction remains an open question. But, as we discuss in the latest edition of nuClear News (No.92) Hitachi Ltd. is set to lose tens of billions of yen this financial year after withdrawing from a uranium enrichment joint venture in the US. Although Hitachi says it plans to proceed with Wylfa by “ensuring costs are thoroughly managed” a healthy amount of scepticism remains in order.

Jim Green, writing in the Ecologist, says the ripple-effects of Toshiba’s latest problems will be many and varied. Japan’s ambitions to develop a large nuclear export business are in tatters. It’s not just Toshiba. Other nuclear utilities around the world are also in deep trouble. Their problems were summarised in the July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report:

Many of the traditional nuclear and fossil fuel based utilities are struggling with a dramatic plunge in wholesale power prices, a shrinking client base, declining power consumption, high debt loads, increasing production costs at aging facilities, and stiff competition, especially from renewables.”

Green says the nuclear renaissance is turning out to be more of a dead cat bounce than a renaissance.

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Published: 6 February 2017