Posts Tagged new nuclear

Three Mile Island – the real disaster

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on June 2nd, 2017

In 1979, Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania experienced a meltdown. Although no one died, the incident was labeled a disaster. However the real disaster appears to still be the impact these events had on the industry.

This week the owner of the plant said it would have to prematurely shut down in September 2019 due to unsupportive policy causing financial issues. The Three Mile Island and Fukushima incidents have placed significant pressure on the nuclear industry through increased regulation and further safety systems. These have added to costs making reactors like Three Mile Island unprofitable.

Safety and regulation is obviously important, but they have often been based on fear rather than science, and not accompanied by sufficient support and innovation for the industry. The consequences of a decline of nuclear are severe. Not only does it provide long term, reliable power, it also contributes to energy security and avoids dangerous air pollution and greenhouse gasses. There is concern that the decline of nuclear is offsetting growth in renewables meaning a lack of progress for overall low carbon power.

The American industry is in trouble, but it is also symptomatic of many other countries in the world. Especially in Europe, early retirements are common and even in supportive countries like the UK, new nuclear is struggling to gain traction. However with the consequences to health, security and the climate that a loss of nuclear power risks, it is essential that a new generation of nuclear power is supported and encouraged.



The need to reduce carbon emissions whilst maintaining a supply of reliable energy to allow nations to continue to develop is undisputed. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment report’s least-emissions pathway (RCP 2.6 or lower) requires fossil fuel production to be phased out by mid century. What is disputed is whether certain technologies can be up-scaled to meet demand on this timescale. Nuclear power is one of the few technologies that can supply a base load alternative to fossil fuels whilst also being zero-carbon once constructed and producing no air pollution. However, current delays with contemporary “one of a kind” reactors have made many write nuclear off as an option to rapidly expand and provide a sustainable, fossil fuel free future.

A new article from PLoS has undermined this pessimistic view. By studying historical data of the growth of the Swedish and French nuclear programs from the 1960s to 1990s the authors modeled a range of scenarios for the deployment of new nuclear reactors. Their conclusion: if the world were to build nuclear reactors at the same rate as these historical programs, then coal and gas electricity could be replaced in less than a decade. Even the more conservative models (taking into account differing relative economic output across regions, varying construction time and costs, future electricity demand growth forecasts and the need to retire existing aging nuclear plants) predict that fossil fuel electricity could be replaced in 25-34 years.

Such a replacement would have a huge impact on global carbon emissions and averting dangerous climate change. The paper shows that the installation of nuclear power in Sweden between 1972 and 1986, reduced the country’s CO2 per capita emissions by 75%, a figure that according to the World Bank is the most rapid installation of low-CO2 electricity capacity on a per capita basis of any nation in history.

Planning for a decarbonised future, as is currently happening at the Paris COP, is a process littered with uncertainty and speculation. But this paper, with projections grounded in reality and actual historical experience, highlights that nuclear should not be disregarded and provides one of the best options for real progress in the fight to replace fossil fuels and mitigate climate change.

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