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Nuclear roar set to backfire

Posted by Paul Seaman in Green / Nuclear's Future on 8 April 2008

Why we posted this: The nuclear industry is not wise to over-state its good case to supply the world’s electricity. This speech by a nuclear industry leader captures the contradiction well.

The original story:
The Nuclear Renaissance in a Global Context
Speech by  John Ritch
director general, World Nuclear Association
6 June, 2007

Extracts from the speech:

[Here's the hype:]
If the predictions from [global warming] science hold true, the combined effect – of greenhouse gas emissions and the compounding reverberations from positive feedback in our world’s oceans, land and air – will be the deaths of not just millions but of billions of people, and the destruction of much of civilization on all continents.

In today’s world of 6.4 billion, a full 2 billion people have no electricity, and 2 billion more have only limited access. In other words, fewer than 40% of the world’s people can easily switch on the lights.

Humankind cannot conceivably achieve a global clean-energy revolution without a huge expansion of nuclear power – to generate electricity, to produce battery power and perhaps hydrogen for tomorrow’s vehicles, and to desalinate seawater in response to the world’s rapidly emerging fresh-water crisis.

We must place ourselves on a trajectory for a 21st century nuclear industry that achieves the deployment of nothing less than 8,000-10,000 Gigawatts of nuclear power – a twenty-fold increase. To plan for anything less would be to invite environmental disaster.

National governments must therefore act to incentivize immediate nuclear investments – not to subsidize long-term nuclear operations but simply to pump-prime these early phases of the nuclear renaissance, for reasons of environmental urgency as well as energy security.

[Here's the sensible acceptance of the real world:]
We are still far away from agreement on a comprehensive [greenhouse gas reduction] regime, and realism dictates pessimism about the prospect of a major multinational treaty. But the very act of seeking one – or even of achieving widespread agreement that major greenhouse emitters should take parallel steps to achieve deep reductions – will send powerful signals to the energy marketplace.

[We need to] shape national policies and international institutions to directly support nuclear investment.

Over the long-term, nuclear power is highly competitive – indeed, in most countries, a low-cost option even without emissions trading or a tax on carbon. But two factors now weigh against nuclear investment: the short-term bias of deregulated energy markets and the fact that 21st century nuclear reactors have not been built in sufficient numbers to achieve economies of scale.

livingissues comment:
Fighting anti-nuclear fear and emotion with a matching hype about climate change is doomed to fail. It suggests that the nuclear industry has not learnt how to conduct a coherent debate. In that regard it has much to learn from the fossil-fuel industry, which more consistently gets the tone right by explaining tough choices and their consequences using more measured words.

Underneath the hype the nuclear industry’s ambitions are not about saving the world from catastrophe but about negotiating a limited-scale renewal, which certainly looks possible but far from certain or large-scale. In the UK we may no more than replace existing nuclear capacity. Other countries, Germany for instance, may begin to take new build seriously again – at least as an option.

Drawing a distinction between subsidy and pump-priming to set the industry going afresh is a difference made by spin doctors. It reveals that the industry acknowledges that the major barrier to building new nuclear plant is not public perception about risk, but traditional economics and short-term political perspectives in the energy market.

The disparity between the huff and puff and the nuclear industry’s actual objectives makes it appear ridiculous. The truth is that the nuclear industry is still trapped by its opponents’ winning strategy in terms of framing the issue. This acts as a barrier to redefining the debate as being about balancing real energy needs in an uncertain world.

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