It has taken decades, many billions of dollars of cost overruns, financial meltdown and unresolved legal battles. And that’s the good part of the story. In 2018, with a rare bit of good luck, two types of nuclear reactor that are meant to herald a new era for the technology will at last be up and running. The bad news for the industry is that they are probably too late to halt the slow death of the nuclear dream. In Sanmen, in eastern China, the first AP1000 reactor is expected to reach full power in 2018. That will ease some of the gloom that has shrouded the industry since its manufacturer, Westinghouse (which is a subsidiary of Toshiba), filed for bankruptcy in America in 2017. At Taishan, in Guangdong province, two European pressurised reactions (EPRs) made by Areva, an all-but-bust French producer, are also likely to start up in late 2017 and early 2018, respectively. If all goes according to plan, a Finnish EPR, Olkiluoto 3, will connect to the grid by the end of 2018, which would make it western Europe’s first nuclear power station since 2002. But both the AP1000 and the EPR also suffered from runaway internal problems. The reactors were overengineered and suffered failures along the supply chain. Legal disputes also slowed things down. A dispute about cost overruns, between TVO, the Finnish utility that owns Olkiluoto 3, and Areva and Siemens, the German engineering group, which built it, rumbles on. That threatens the availability of “financial, technical and human resources” to finish the project, TVO says. But the amount of nuclear energy that will add to the grid is dwarfed by the amount of renewable energy coming on-stream. According to The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017, by the start of 2018 solar PV capacity in China will rival that of nuclear, and will more than double it by 2022. Globally, the falling cost of natural gas and renewables is making the case for nuclear less compelling. Politics is not helping either. Nuclear powerhouses such as France and South Korea are now led by presidents who are losing interest in atomic energy. But, in America, the Trump administration wants to throw a lifeline to nuclear energy and coal.
Economist 23rd Dec 2017 read more »