In 2016, pro-nuclear advocates won our first victories against the anti-nuclear Goliath, saving nuclear plants from closure in Switzerland, Illinois, New York and Sweden.
But the anti-nuclear establishment quickly struck back with a series of victories resulting in announced nuclear plant closures and cancellations in New York and Taiwan, adding to the heavy losses pro-nuclear advocates have sustained in California, Germany and Japan.
Now, in the wake of a financial crisis resulting from construction delays and cost overruns at two U.S. nuclear plants, the American nuclear giant Westinghouse has announced it might go bankrupt.
And South Korea, one of the great hopes for a global nuclear renaissance, appears poised to elect as president a man who is campaigning to shutter all of that nation’s nuclear power plants.
After I described just how desperate the situation facing nuclear is, a friend last week replied, “Knowledge is the antidote to fear.”
He told me a story about the operator of Fukushima Daiini — a nuclear plant down the road from Fukushima Daiichi, where three reactors melted down.
Daiini faced similar problems as Daiichi, but its operator responded differently. “He gathered everyone together and started putting information up on a white board,” my friend said.
“They got clear about what was going on. They kept the information flowing,” my friend explained. “And that allowed them to save the plant.”
The Antidote to Fear
Last year, EP and I were the first to note that the share of global electricity coming from clean energy had — against the hype — actually declined, in part due to the closure and cancellation of nuclear plants.
Even so, if you listen to some within the industry and government, nuclear’s doing okay. They note that there are more plants are under construction than at any time in the last two decades, and that there has been a proliferation of nuclear start-ups.
My colleagues and I wanted to get an accurate account of nuclear status based on a nation-by-nation, plant-by-plant assessment, and so over the last three months we researched and have now rated for the likelihood of opening and closing:
- Every operating nuclear plant in the world;
- Every nuclear plant being built;
- Every nuclear plant being proposed.
We conclude that if nothing changes, more nuclear plants are likely to close than open between now and 2030.
If our forecast is correct, it would be a continuation of nuclear’s absolute decline since 2006, and an acceleration of its relative decline (as a share of total global electricity) since 1996.
When nuclear plants are cancelled or closed, they are replaced almost entirely with fossil fuels, and so this is bad news for clean air and the climate.
We are calling our ongoing assessment of progress being made toward meeting the goals of universal prosperity and environmental protection the “Energy Progress Tracker” (EPT).
This is not an academic exercise for us. EP is doing this because we want to prevent nuclear plants from closing and increase the number of plants opening.
As advocates for nuclear, EP could have a bias. Consciously or unconsciously, we might want to show that the situation is worse than it is, or better than it is, in order to raise fears or hopes, and money, or to motivate some other kind of action.
At the same time, we have an incentive to maintain our reputation for accurate, honest and cutting-edge analyses.
Whatever the case, in service of accuracy, honesty and transparency, we are publishing our national and plant-specific assessments, and inviting comments, particularly from those with local or national knowledge.
Going forward, EP will adjust our rankings in real-time according to real-world events and keep track of how our rankings changed over time, with accompanying explanations for why they changed.
For example, if presidential front-runner Moon Jae-in is defeated on May 9, we would likely change our assessment of South Korean nuclear.
No Nukes? No Climate
Over the last decade and a half I have been critical of those who claim the world will end imminently if we don’t drastically downscale our lives to save the climate. That’s bad religion and politics — authoritarian and demotivating.
Now, with my recent focus on nuclear power for ending poverty and mitigating climate change, a few friends have asked whether my views on climate have changed. Am I more worried about climate than I was before?
The short answer is yes. If nuclear plants were being scaled up globally at the rate France and Sweden did in the 1970s and 1980s, then I would probably be a “lukewarmer” — somebody who believes that humans are causing global warming, but that it probably won’t get too hot, or be that bad.