05 July 2011

A Measure of Fukushima's Impact on Nuclear Power

A lot has been written about the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster for the future of nuclear power.  Much of the discussion has focused on the high-profile cases of Germany and of course Japan.  But overall, it seems that the aggregate effects of the disaster on the global prospects for nuclear power are pretty small. 

Evidence for this comes from this nugget buried deep in the FT, which I was very surprised to see (I would have thought that the terminated or delayed number would have been much larger):
Of 570 units planned before Fukushima, only 37 have been axed or put on hold since the crisis, according to Arthur D. Little, a consultancy.
And while Germany steps back from nuclear power, it looks like the UK is jumping back in with renewed vigor:
The British nuclear industry is about to enjoy a “renaissance” and the country must become the “number one destination” for investment in new reactors, the energy minister will say on Tuesday.

Charles Hendry will deliver the most enthusiastic ministerial endorsement yet of the nuclear industry’s ambition to build a new generation of power stations.

In his speech to the Nuclear Industry Association, seen by the Financial Times, Mr Hendry will say: “The UK has everything to gain from becoming the number one destination to invest in new nuclear. Nuclear is the cheapest low-carbon source of electricity around, so it can keep bills down and the lights on.”

A dozen new reactors are set to be constructed at eight sites in England and Wales, with the first due to be completed in 2018. The total cost of the programme, the most ambitious in Europe, is forecast to be at least £50bn.
Reports of the death of nuclear power have clearly been exaggerated.


  1. The death of nuclear power in Germany is due more to Merkel's spinelessness than anything else. Merkel is like that apocryphal French politician who, seeing a crowd of protesters marching, told his friend "I need to see which way the crowd is marching so that I can get in front of them and lead them." She made a pronouncement in favor of a proposed EU tax on large motor vehicles - to save the planet - and then quietly renounced it when told that it would particularly hurt the German auto industry.

    Merkel's party is the pro-nuclear party in Germany - and that's without the global warming incentive. Rather than be a leader and explain to people why nuclear was necessary and safe, she stuck her finger in the wind and reversed decades of party policy without a fight. One has to wonder whether there is anything left she would fight for.

  2. .

    A little perspective is in order. As bad as Fukushima was, so far organic German sprouts have killed far more people. Indeed those organic sprouts have killed more even if you add in the BP oil spill.

    There is something to be said for fertilizing food with man made nitrogen fertilizer pulled from the atmosphere instead of using bacteria friendly poop.

    There is also something to be said for keeping risks in perspective.


  3. Here we have finland going out to tender for yet another nuclear reactor


    I can't imagine what they plan to do with all that power...export it at a handsome profit to Germany perhaps?

  4. The biggest threat to new nuclear power isn't public sentiment, but low natural gas prices. Two reactors in Texas have been all but scrapped since Fukishima; however, they were already in trouble due to sustained low NG prices.

    Personally, I'd prefer nuclear for base load and NG for peak (and solar where economically feasible in the southwest).

  5. ...except that according to the London Times this morning, two of the German companies they were expecting to bid on building Britain's new plants are pulling out.

  6. The fact that existing plans for new reactors continue for the most part without interruption is not an indication of resiliency of nuclear power, rather its an artifact of the capital already committed to these projects. The further a project is in development, the lower the chance either its corporate backers or the respective government will be willing cancel the project. Their willingness to undertake a new nuclear development project, however, will be severely limited by the recent events in Japan.

  7. In response to Kenneth Davies, in the case of Southern's Vogtle site and Scanna's VC Summer station, the vast majority of capital needed to build has not been committed to these projects. Each utility plans to build twin Westinghouse AP1000 1,150 MW reactors at about $5-6 billion each. So far committments for licensing, etc., are only in the low hundreds of millions.

    These projects are seen as the most likely to go forward in the U.S. For further details see my assessment of May 20, 2011 here.


    Dan Yurman, publisher, Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy