Nuclear power generated more than a sixth of the world’s electricity at its peak. In the following quarter of a century, safety and cost concerns pushed its contribution down to a tenth. Now soaring fuel prices and the push to decarbonise are strengthening the case for a nuclear renaissance. Investors will be wary. Backing nuclear has been a bruising experience, particularly since the meltdown at the Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011. That prompted Germany to force the closure of plants operated by four companies: EnBW, Eon, RWE and Vattenfall. The ensuing disputes were only settled this year with the payment of €2.8bn of compensation. The economics of nuclear power have also deteriorated. The cost of new reactors jumped even as the price of building gas and renewable generation fell. Budget overruns plunged several companies into crisis. In 2017 Westinghouse Electric, then owned by Japanese conglomerate Toshiba, filed for bankruptcy after costs escalated at four US reactors. ESG funds fret about safety, waste disposal and the impact of uranium mining. ESG funds are a lot less likely than others to hold shares in EDF, the utility with the most nuclear exposure in Europe, according to Barclays. Yet the merits of a reliable, if costly, source of low-carbon energy have been underlined by the recent spike in global gas prices. In Britain that coincided with a period of light winds, drawing attention to the intermittency of renewable energy. In China, strict carbon emissions targets and rising coal prices are posing a threat to economic growth.
FT 27th Sept 2021 read more »
If you live in western Europe, you could be forgiven for thinking that the nuclear energy sector is in a state of terminal decline. The last nuclear reactor in Germany is due to be powered down next year, England’s Dungeness B power station closed seven years earlier than planned over the summer, and French president Emmanuel Macron is refusing to commit to new nuclear capacity. Public opinion around nuclear power is shifting in France. Surveys by the pollster Odoxa found that 67% of people were in favour of atomic energy in 2013, but by 2018 53% of people said they were opposed to it. Attitudes in the UK are somewhat sunnier: a survey conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy earlier this year revealed that 38% of people felt that nuclear provides a safe source of energy, while 20% reported the opposite. But funding provides a significant barrier to the expansion of the UK nuclear fleet. While much of Europe drags its feet on greenlighting new nuclear plants for economic and political reasons, China and India are charging ahead with development. As of May 2021, China had 17 planned reactors, the highest number in the world, while India had six. China is also making strides in its development of new nuclear technologies as it seeks to transition to cleaner energy, particularly with Gen IV nuclear fission projects such as the CFR-600 demonstrator being built in Fujian province as a prototype for a a 1GW commercial reactor.
Institute of Mechanical Engineers 27th Sept 2021 read more »