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COVID, Climate Disruption Present Increasing Threats to Continued Use of Nuclear Power, Report States
World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR2020), released on 24 September 2020. The annual analysis of world nuclear power operations examined nuclear power’s performance in 2019, with a number of startling results:
• The number of operating reactors declined by 9 in 2019
• New-built renewables accounted for 77 times more new energy capacity than new nuclear plants
• The COVID pandemic and increasing climate disruption present significant safety implications for continued operation of nuclear plants worldwide
The World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR2020), released on 24 September 2020, assesses in 361 pages the status and trends of the international nuclear industry and analyzes the additional challenges nuclear power is facing in the age of COVID-19. For the first time we report includes as specific chapter analyzing nuclear programs in the Middle East as the first reactor started up in the Arab world.
Seven interdisciplinary experts from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Lebanon/U.S. and the U.K., from top think tanks like Chatham House in London and prestigious universities like Harvard in Cambridge, Meiji in Tokyo and Technical University in Berlin, have contributed to the report, along with a data engineer, numerous proofreaders and two artistic designers. The foreword was provided by Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, and Jungmin Kang, former head of the safety authority in South Korea.
The number of operating reactors in the world has dropped by nine over the past year to 408 as of mid-2020, that is below the level already reached in 1988, and 30 units below the historic peak of 438 in 2002.
New renewable resources like wind and solar power increased by 184 gigawatts last year, while nuclear power grew by only 2.4 gigawatts. As a result — for the first time in history — renewable sources (excluding hydropower) generated more power than nuclear plants in 2019.
“Nuclear energy has become irrelevant in the electricity generating technology market,” said Mycle Schneider, the coordinator of the report. “At the same time, COVID-19 puts additional stress on the sector.” Co-author Antony Froggatt, Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House, London, added: “In economic terms renewables continue to pull away from nuclear power, over the past decade the cost estimates for utility-scale solar dropped by 89 percent, wind by 70 percent, while nuclear increased by 26 percent.”
The report highlights the particular impact of COVID-19, the first pandemic of this scale in the history of nuclear power. These include:
The U.S. regulator granted operators permission to impose extremely long work hours, with some working 16 hours a day and 86 hours a week.
In Russia and Sweden control-room staff were isolated in on site housing.
In France, workers walked off at least three reactor sites considering their health and safety were not appropriately protected.
Force-on-force exercises in the U.S. were suspended, leading to a degraded readiness level.
In many cases, refueling and maintenance outages have been altered to eliminate “noncritical work” or were deferred entirely to the end of the year or even into 2021.
Numerous fuel-chain and research facilities were shut down.
Notably, only one national operator – in Russia – reported weekly on infections among nuclear staff. As of mid-July, Rosatom reported a total of 4,500 cases.
The new chapter focusing on nuclear programs in the Middle East assesses whether the first nuclear plant in the Arab world is a pilot project or an exception for the region considering the spectacular advances of competing solar power. Contributing Author Ali Ahmad, Research Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School comments: “The progress made on the UAE’s Barakah project, despite its own delays, is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere in the region because of the structural drivers that, together, made the Barakah project possible.”
The question of Small Modular Reactors is frequently being debated and a chapter analyses the status of the programs around the world. Contributing Author M.V. Ramana, Professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada, states: “Small Modular Reactors continue to be the focus of much of the discussion about the future of nuclear power but they have so far been suffering many of the development problems experienced in large nuclear power plant projects, especially deadlines for licensing and construction being pushed back and costs increasing.”
This independent report has contributions from seven interdisciplinary experts from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Lebanon/U.S. and the U.K., from top think tanks like Chatham House in London and prestigious universities like Harvard in Cambridge, Meiji in Tokyo and Technical University in Berlin, have contributed to the report. The foreword was provided by Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, and Jungmin Kang, former head of the safety authority in South Korea.
COMMENTS FROM NEIS
“As NEIS has warned in Illinois, this report shows that the COVID pandemic and increasingly severe climate disruption events are demonstrating that nuclear power will be an increasingly vulnerable and dangerous energy resource worldwide,” notes David Kraft, director of the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy information Service (NEIS).
“As energy future plans and debates continue, as they are currently in Illinois, nuclear emerges as a much riskier energy choice than renewables, efficiency and energy storage,” Kraft contends.
The increasingly unpredictable availability of water for reactor cooling and generation of steam as a result of severe climate events makes nuclear plant operations less viable and more costly.
The COVID pandemic has demonstrated that nuclear plant operations will be more costly and present a huge and unique public health threat. States and electric utilities will be continually confronted with the incompatible choice of either deferring safety-related maintenance and refueling operations, or risking resurgence of COVID cases as hundreds to thousands of specialized, out-of-state workers are brought in to conduct these operations, while simultaneously risking increased spread of the virus.
These points have been made by dozens of safe-energy organizations around the country in a joint letter sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and independently, to their respective members of Congress. In Illinois NEIS has sent a letter and had conversations with the staffs of both Sen. Richard Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth listing these concerns, and has sent these concerns to many state officials and legislators currently involved in “energy working groups” to draft energy legislation for the Fall legislative session.
NEIS hosted a special ZOOM webinar this evening titled, “Nuclear Power Operation in a COVID World,” featuring Tim Judson, director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service which will be posted soon on our youtube channel at www.youtube.com/user/videoatneis.
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HIGHLIGHT from NEIS Night With The Experts
The Environmental Injustice of Nuclear Energy
“Nuclear power has it’s own unique set of environmental issues which seem to be colliding with…trying to close down coal plants but then they’re saying ‘Yeah but we have to operate the nuclear plants’, which creates environmental problems outside the states [that shut down coal production and then rely on nuclear energy].
You can watch the full episode of Night With The Experts with Leona Morgan or other videos on our YouTube page linked to here.
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