Nuclear Power on the Decline?

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that took place on March 11, 2011 has had major implications on countries throughout the world. The negative impact of fossil fuels is widely acknowledged and there is major emphasis on transitioning from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. Although nuclear power has been thought to be key to making this change, Europe plans to decommission almost 150 nuclear plants, and more than 200 nuclear power stations across the world will be closed by 2030 [1]. Interestingly, in President Obama’s State of the Union last Tuesday, he addressed the threat of climate change and the potential of energy technologies like wind, solar, and natural gas, but did not mention nuclear [2].

Despite worldwide trends away from nuclear power, the Czech Republic stands firm in its choice to support nuclear power. As part of the country’s long-term energy strategy, the share of nuclear power should increase from today’s one third to 55 percent over the next three decades [3]. The Temelin project is one way for the Czech Republic to meet this goal. It entails the energy firm CEZ building two new nuclear reactors at the plant, with an estimated project cost of 16 billion dollars [3].

Temelin nuclear power plant

Figure 1: Temelin Nuclear Power Plant (www.britannica.com)

However, cheap power prices currently in Europe, combined with falling demand for electricity and questions about government support leave the Temelin project in doubt. Both the Czech Republic and the U.K. were once the European leaders in commitment to nuclear, today this is no longer the case. Mycle Schneider, an independent consultant on energy and nuclear power based in Paris, says, “The future of nuclear energy in Europe looks very dim indeed. Nuclear is too capital intensive, too time-consuming and simply too risky.” [4] In light of the relatively low electricity prices, the Czech government has even considered bringing about fixed prices of electricity produced by CEZ’s nuclear power plants, which environmentalists are not happy about.  No decision about fixed electricity prices has been made, however, if the Temelin project were to be approved, construction would begin in 2016 and it would take around ten years to complete [3].

The decline in nuclear power usage across Europe, although gradual, is very apparent. This reduction allows for room to focus on renewable energy, research, and sustainability.  It is questionable how much of the energy supply could actually be replaced by renewables, or if it will cause more reliance on fossil fuels.

Sources:

[1] http://inhabitat.com/europe-to-decommission-most-nuclear-power-stations-by-2030/

[2] http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/EE-Obama_neglects_nuclear_in_state_of_the_union_130213a.html

[3] http://www.radio.cz/en/section/marketplace/government-considers-guaranteeing-electricity-prices-to-pay-for-temelin-expansion

[4] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-14/nuclear-revival-dying-in-europe-as-power-prices-slump-energy.html

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1 Comment

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One response to “Nuclear Power on the Decline?

  1. waldropmatt

    In my opinion, the debate over nuclear energy in Europe is much more interesting than in the U.S. I find it amusing that after Fukushima, Germany started a timeline of closing all of their nuclear power plants, and Obama cleared the construction for several new nuclear plants on the east coast. It really makes you see the difference between European and American politics.

    I think a big reason for this is the density of different countries found in Europe and how different public opinion is in each. For nuclear, two interesting neighboring countries are Germany and France. Germany is shutting down their nuclear plants, and is having to build more coal power plants to make up for the power loss.[1] I find this kind of ironic, because we normally consider Germany to be one of the ‘greener’ countries in the world. In the transition time between shutting down nuclear plants and building coal plants, they’re going to need to import some electricity from somewhere nearby… like, France.[2] France gets over 75% of their power from nuclear. France is also the world’s largest net electricity exporter, with most of their exports going to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and a host of other countries. This is a 3 billion euro per year market, so I don’t see France giving up their nuclear power any time soon.[3] It would seem that some countries would just rather pay someone else to take the risk of nuclear power.

    [1]- http://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2012/11/28/a-nuke-free-germany-may-be-forced-into-dirty-embrace-with-coal/
    [2]-http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2031786/Germany-importing-electricity-France-decision-shut-nuclear-reactors.html
    [3]- http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf40.html

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