The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Will Cheap Renewables Make Nuclear Power Obsolete?
By Paul Brown
Key projects have been abandoned, costs are rising, and politicians in countries which previously championed the industry are withdrawing their support.
This latest trend—the production of hydrogen from excess wind and solar power—raises the possibility of replacing natural gas, at least in part, for domestic heating and cooking and for power stations.
Many existing gas pipelines and domestic networks are equally capable of taking natural gas, biogas and hydrogen, or a mixture of all three.
The speed with which the transition is taking place has exceeded all official estimates. In favorable locations across the world, including the U.S., Europe and India, onshore wind and solar farms are the least expensive way of producing electricity.
Even off-shore wind, five years ago more expensive than nuclear power, has developed so quickly that the latest Dutch off-shore farms are to be built without any subsidy at all.
These advances in renewables that are cutting the cost of power are in sharp contrast to continued cost overruns and delays in nuclear power stations.
An analysis of countries' plans for tackling climate change showed that 108 were looking to expand renewables and just nine wanted to build new nuclear stations.
The biggest single blow to nuclear power's expansion came in August: two nuclear reactors under construction in South Carolina were abandoned when 40 percent complete. This was a humiliation for the U.S. giant Westinghouse, already in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings to escape its creditors.
The models concerned were its flagship design, AP 1000 pressurized water reactors, which were supposed to spur a nuclear revival. Their cost, already $9 billion, was expected to rise to $25 billion by the time the reactors were completed—three years behind schedule.
This month in the nearby state of Georgia, building work on the only other plants of this design still under construction was allowed to continue despite already accumulated delays and costs. When the project is completed it is expected to increase consumer bills in the state by 10 percent.
The continued difficulties of nuclear power are reflected in the French government's declared intention to reduce nuclear's share in electricity generation from 75 percent to 50 percent, by closing old stations and building more renewables.
While it will not close old reactors as fast as it originally intended, France does not plan to build any new nuclear plants beyond the one still awaiting completion at Flamanville, which is years late and over budget.
The South Korean government has similarly been promising to halt nuclear expansion and develop more renewables. Japan, still suffering from the after-effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, is abandoning plans to restart some of its older reactors because of public resistance and the expense of upgrading safety.
Even in China and Russia, where state control means market economics have little effect on decision-making, plans to build more nuclear stations appear to be on hold, although no official statements have been made.
This has not stopped the nuclear industries in all these countries trying to export their technologies—notably to the UK, which is inviting all of them except Russia to build their latest nuclear power station design on its shores. If the plans succeed, the UK would have four different designs.
The most advanced of these, Hinkley Point C in the west of England, is a set of two reactors of similar design to the badly delayed French reactor at Flamanville. It was originally due to be completed by Christmas 2017, but is now scheduled for 2025, although that is now seen as optimistic.
Even the former UK energy secretary Sir Edward Davey, who signed off on the Hinkley Point deal, said "the economics have clearly gone away." He doubted that the building would ever be completed, he told Greenpeace in an interview.
All the other UK nuclear projects are still at various stages of planning, and how any of them will be paid for is yet to be worked out. It is already clear that none can be financed without government subsidy.
An important political development in 2017 was that for the first time both the U.S. and the UK admitted that their support for the nuclear industry is linked to the need to maintain their military capability in nuclear submarines and personnel. This is key, because both powers have previously claimed that there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries.
Even before their admission it was already clear that the big economies which have no nuclear weapons, like Germany, can see no point in having a civil nuclear industry.
That does not stop smaller countries, some without any nuclear power stations at all at present, from signing agreements with the Russian state-owned company Rosatom. In what many see as a Russian policy to extend its international influence, Rosatom already says it is building reactors in Belarus, China, India, Bangladesh, Hungary, Turkey, Finland and Iran, and is seeking to expand, with tenders in for 23 other reactors abroad.
These include Sudan, where the current president is wanted for war crimes. Whether all the plans will come to fruition remains doubtful.
The claim to a bright future which the nuclear industry clung to for the last 20 years was that the technology produced large quantities of low carbon electricity at a low price—something that intermittent renewables could not do.
In 2017 it is clear this argument has fallen apart. Nuclear is ever more expensive, and the cost is growing, while renewables are getting cheaper all the time.
But perhaps most important is that, with the development of batteries, biogas and hydrogen, the output from renewables can be stored and balanced out. Base load nuclear power is no longer needed.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images
By Jennifer Molidor
One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.
"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.
Company Safety Data Sheets on New Chemicals Frequently Lack the Worker Protections EPA Claims They Include
By Richard Denison
Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).
By Grant Smith
From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.
By Brett Walton
When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.
In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.
This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.
If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
- Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change ›
- How working less could solve all our problems. Really. | ›
- Needed: A shorter work week – People's World ›