Costs for Nuclear Energy Skyrocket While Cost of Renewables Plummet

Darlington Nuclear Plant on Lake Ontario

[This is a repost about the financial costs and risks of nuclear technology (written before the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant disaster).   If a country is going to spend $10 billion to generate energy and reduce carbon emissions what technology truly offers the best return on a full cost-accounting basis? The latter calculation is not simple or uncontroversial. Two years ago Canada balked at the costs of new nuclear plants now it plans to build some without knowing the price tag.  — Stephen ]

By Stephen Leahy*

BERLIN, Jul 31, 2009 (IPS)

With costs of nuclear energy skyrocketing while the costs of renewables are falling quickly why is nuclear energy back on the table?

One reason is a powerful U.S. lobby where 14 energy companies spent 48 million dollars in 2007 alone to convince American politicians to give the industry huge loan guarantees because they cannot get financing anywhere else, says Ellen Vancko, a nuclear energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based non governmental organisation (NGO).

This lavish lobbying effort by the energy and nuclear power sector has been ongoing since the mid-1990s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a U.S. NGO and now totals at least 953 million dollars.

Even more has been spent to convince the public that nuclear is one of the keys to energy security so that there is significant public support for new reactors, a Gallup Environment Poll reported this year.

“There are lots of senators and members of congress talking about nuclear as a clean, renewable energy resource,” Vancko says.

The other reason is the French.

France gets about 77 percent of its power from 58 reactors and is often cited as the model for other countries. “France is a special case. The entire industry is 85 percent owned by the government,” says Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based energy and nuclear policy analyst.

The industry gets direct and indirect subsidies, government loans and loan guarantees “on practically anything they want”, Schneider told IPS.

And despite a well-polished reputation for efficiency and low-cost, the French nuclear industry has been plagued by cost-overruns, equipment failures, and relatively low levels of reliability. Even though French reactors are all of similar design, the cost to build a plant in 1998 was 3.5 times higher than the first plants built in 1974, says Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich in the U.K.

Unlike wind or solar energy or virtually any other technology, the costs of nuclear go up over time rather than down even in pro-nuclear France, he said. “I think that is rather telling about the technology,” Thomas told IPS.

The current Finnish nuclear experience echoes the industry’s long history.

Backed byFrench government loan guarantees, Areva, the French government-owned nuclear energy company began construction in 2005 on what is supposed to be the world’s largest and safest nuclear plant at Olkiluoto, Finland.

Plagued by thousands of construction and design problems it is currently 2 to 3 billion dollars over budget and three to four years behind schedule.

“It’s a total disaster for Areva,” Schneider says. Areva will have to sell another 12 reactors to cover the cost overruns thus far or else French taxpayers will, he said.

“The hype around a nuclear power revival or renaissance was based on nothing and is effectively dead.”

Last month Canada backed out of ordering two 1,200-megawatt reactors because cost estimates of 10,000 dollars/kW were three times higher than expected. [update Feb 2011 – Ontario now holding hearings to spend $33 billion to build two new reactors and upgrade others and bans offshore wind!]

However there is real danger that the nuclear industry will continue to promote itself as a ‘silver-bullet’ solution to climate change and give politicians the kind of mega-projects that gets them publicity, warns Schneider.

Equally important is that corporate shareholders of large utility companies can do very well financially on such projects when governments guarantee to cover any losses.

“The worst thing about new nuclear is that it steals billions of public dollars from other more effective things like energy efficiency,” he says.

(Second of two part series)

-30-

Part one:

Lobbyists Push for Nuclear Energy and put Taxpayers on the hook for 360 billion to 1.6 trillion dollars (again)

The Oxymoron of Political Leadership and Political Will

Analysis by Stephen Leahy

VIENNA, Jun 29, 2011 (IPS)

Political will is all that’s needed to bring electricity to the 2.5 billion people with no or unreliable access to power, or to feed the one billion who go hungry every day, or to finally begin to slash carbon emissions to avoid dangerous climate change, or just about any other global problem.

Humanity has the technology, resources and even the money to solve these problems, agree scientists, corporate business leaders, heads of civil society organisations and United Nations agencies and government ministers. “All that is lacking is political will,” they almost always declare at the dozens of international conferences, summits and forums this reporter has attended for the past five years. And then everyone goes home.

What is this magical “political will” that can solve any problem?

via The Oxymoron of Political Leadership – IPS ipsnews.net.

Fossil Fuel Industry Kings of Corporate Welfare

This graphic from GOOD magazine shows who gets the bulk of the enormous US energy subsidies. Many subsidies are hidden and difficult to estimate and this attempt looks to be low according to the experts I’ve interviewed for various articles (cited below). The graphic also doesn’t include subsidies for nuclear which are equally enormous.  — Stephen

The enormous fossil fuel subsidies are rarely acknowledged when complaints are raised about costs of renewable energy. This report shown below says subsidies for fossil fuel are 12X that for green energy but this is a gross underestimate based on the experts I’ve interviewed in June for this article Free Ride for Oil and Coal Industry May Be Over.

Subsidies experts in Switzerland told me that “two-billion-dollars-a-day public subsidy for carbon-based fuels is a very conservative estimate..”

In reality big oil and coal get more like 20X the money green energy. So let’s do some real pricing: electricity from coal 5 cents kWh X 20 for subsidies (not to mention free use of the atmosphere /environment for its CO2, mercury etc waste products.) Corporate welfare at its best.

A few of the many articles I’ve written on the subject of energy subsidies:

Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are 12X (more like 20X) Support for Renewables, Study Shows

Every Day Governments Give an Estimated $2 billion to Oil, Coal & Gas Industry

Oil Companies and Special Interests Spend Half a Billion Dollars to Defeat US Clean Energy – Study

Nuclear Power Costs Skyrocket, Cost of Renewables Plummet

Africa’s Future Lies in a Green Energy Grid – Universal Access to Electricity Less Than Cost of Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Kenya switched to green energy and now more people than ever have electricity

Universal access to modern electricity would cost much less than current subsidies to fossil fuel industry

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 14, 2010 (IPS)

Development in Africa could falter as climate change grips the continent, increasing the length and severity of droughts and floods by altering precipitation patterns, among other impacts.

The region needs a major shift in its economic development policies and thinking towards decentralised, green economic development, experts now say.

“The world’s big economies are largely living off financial transactions which are unconnected to development,” warns Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

“Export growth does not automatically result in green economic growth, we must look at trade for development,” said Panitchpakdi.

In a rejection of failed neoliberal economic policies, Panitchpakdi said strong national policies on investments, taxation, protection of local industries, including subsidies, and changes to less restrictive intellectual property regimes are what is needed to green economies in Africa and elsewhere.

“Green economic development underpins environmental protection, economic growth and development,” he said.

This independent environmental journalism depends on public support. Click here learn more.

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Europe’s Green Energy Portfolio Up in Smoke?

…the truth about the “big lie” that burning wood for energy is carbon- neutral

By Stephen Leahy

BERLIN, Jun 7, 2010 (IPS)

Europe seems hell-bent on burning the world’s forests for bioenergy, even as it offers billions of euros to save them, critics say.

The dirty secret of Europe’s vaunted green energy revolution is the fact that 68.5 percent of its renewable energy portfolio comes from biofuels and burning wood for energy, according to a report released in Brussels last week. Modern technologies like wind and solar get all the press, but burning wood is well, prehistoric.

“We estimate at least 27 million tonnes of wood biomass will be needed annually to supply planned power stations in the UK (United Kingdom) alone,” said Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch, a British NGO focused on bioenergy issues.

In a story broken by IPS last fall, at least one million hectares of forest annually will be needed to feed the dozens of planned wood-fired power plants in Britain alone. The Netherlands is already burning one million tonnes of wood. Germany is up 23 million cubic meters (16.5 million tonnes) – mostly imported – and plans to double this figure by 2020, said the report co-published with the Global Justice Ecology Project, “Wood Based Bioenergy: The Green Lie”.

“It’s getting pretty scary,” Ernsting, a report co-author, told IPS. Continue reading

2020 Climate Deadline Is the Crucial “Litmus Test”

Chile—The fury of Chaitén volcano - nat geo

The atmosphere and the climate is a public good, a commons, and can’t be protected by the private sector.”

— Marianne Haug, Oxford Institute for Energy

By Stephen Leahy

VIENNA, Jun 29 2009 (IPS)

“So who here thinks there will be a meaningful deal in Copenhagen?”

Few of the more than 600 energy ministers, officials and experts from 80 countries attending the Vienna Energy Conference raised their hands in response to the conference moderator’s question about the final round of climate negotiations this December in Copenhagen.

“I don’t think there will be agreement on an emissions cap,” said Andre Amado, Brazil’s vice-minister for energy, science and technology.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels must peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline to prevent dangerous, irreversible climate change, scientists have warned. A strong international agreement on emissions targets for both the industrialised and developing world is widely believed to be the only way to ensure emissions peak and then decline.

“There will be agreement on technology transfer and reducing barriers for technology transfers,” to assist developing countries in cutting their emissions and adapting to the changing climate, Amado told participants last week in Austria’s capital city.

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Green Energy Investments Beat Fossil Fuel For First Time in History

wind turbines at night USABy Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jun 5 (IPS) 

The world has turned a green corner toward a more sustainable future, with investments in clean energy outpacing fossil fuel power generation for the first time.

Despite the global economic crisis, a record 155 billion dollars was invested in clean energy companies and projects worldwide last year, mainly in wind and solar, according to a new report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

More remarkably, that investment in clean energy topped 2007’s record investments by five percent, in large part as a result of investments by China, Brazil and other emerging economies.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, says that “2008 was the first year where there was more investment in non-carbon energy sources than in high carbon and nuclear energy.”

“That’s hugely significant,” Steiner told IPS in an interview.

UNEP has been calling for a “Global Green New Deal” to jump-start the global economy and use the various economic stimulus packages to make investments in clean technologies and ‘natural’ infrastructure such as forests and soils. Experts argue that this is the best bet for real growth, combating climate change and sparking an employment boom in the 21st century.

“There are literally millions of new jobs that could be created in the next few years,” Steiner said. Continue reading

Failure on Global Warming “Un-American”

By Stephen Leahy

KINGSTON, Ontario, Jun 25 (IPS) – North America’s abject failure to meet the challenge of climate change has been “un-American”, environmentalist and scientist David Suzuki told delegates Tuesday at the World Wind Energy Conference, the first ever in the region.

“We’re facing an ecological crisis, a crisis far, far worse than Pearl Harbour,” Suzuki said.

Twenty years ago this week, one of the United States’ leading scientists warned Congress of the imminent danger of climate change and said that waiting decades to take action was too risky. Now James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has published new research indicating that greenhouse gas concentrations have pushed the climate near a dangerous tipping point that will unleash far-reaching changes in the atmosphere and oceans that could take millennia to reverse.

100% Renewable Energy Can Power Nations experts say

To prevent a climate crisis, Hansen calls for deep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, beginning almost immediately, including a phase out of coal-fired power plants by 2030. Continue reading