Cover picture: a question with spines
In the neue Zürcher Zeitung of July 24, 2021,Christophe Eisenring explores the question of what stands in the way of a renaissance of nuclear power in Europe:
The article begins with the statement: “The construction of new nuclear power plants is unattractive in Europe. This has to do with the decision of various countries to phase out nuclear power – but also with the fact that the reliability of electricity production is hardly rewarded.” The following is a list of reasons why there are hardly any new projects for the construction of new nuclear power plants today:
- High construction costs, and especially huge cost overruns compared to the original projects.
- Increasing safety requirements that drive costs.
- Collapse of the European supply chain after Siemens, the former German partner of French EdF, exited nuclear technology for lack of orders.
- Poor compensation for system services, such as compensation for bridging production gaps for renewable energy producers (wind, solar).
There is little to counter all of this. But the argument is incomplete. Here are some additions:
- The so-called third-generation EPR reactors under construction in England (Hinkley Point), Finland (Olkiluoto) and France (Flamanville) do not bring any progress with respect to the issue of radioactive waste compared to the second-generation reactors in operation today. And since this very waste of the second generation is still (and for further decades) waiting for disposal, it is difficult to think of new reactors.
- There can be no question of “reliability” for the EPR reactors that are running or have been under construction for years! Be it that the French constructors do not put the reactors on track (see above), be it that the reactor shows severe malfunctions (Taishan in China).
- Reactors of the “fourth generation” are praised by relevant circles for years as solution of all these problems. However, even the research and development of these reactors, which has been resumed after decades of standstill, is progressing only very slowly, and industrial maturity is not expected before decades, if it should ever get that far.
- In contrast to the operation of solar panels, the operation of a nuclear power plant requires highly qualified personnel. In Switzerland today, this personnel can only be trained with difficulty by the operators themselves. Reactor technology and safety is hardly a topic in technical universities anymore, let alone among students.
- If new nuclear power is to make a significant contribution to the energy transition, it must be available in the near future. But this is not conceivable today, since a period of more than 25 years would have to be reckoned with for the realization of a new plant. So even with a renewed amendment to the Nuclear Energy Act, a third-generation nuclear power plant (if they ever actually run) would not be ready for operation before the 2050s. And until then, photovoltaic prices are likely to continue to fall and energy storage technology to continue to develop.
Knowing all this, one also has to wonder what the press activity observed for some weeks now around the extension of the operating lives of existing nuclear power plants and the construction of new ones is aimed at. One can probably exclude the proposals of the swiss people’s party SVP (Mrs. Martullo-Blocher in the NZZ of 22.07.21 and M. Albert Rösti in the Tages-Anzeiger of 28.07.21), shortly after the (negligent but praised by the party) breakdown of negotiations with the EU. Is it a real factual discussion, or is it only about mood mongering?
In any case, the discussion about new nuclear power plants, which has been going on in many countries for quite some time, is now being conducted again in Switzerland – by the same people, with the same interests and with the same arguments (see article by award-winning writer Joyce Nelson, www.joycenelson.ca).