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The UK Nuclear Industry is in Financial Meltdown

The UK political situation on nuclear power is pretty uninspiring, apart from the Greens. Few political supporters of nuclear power appear to be aware that nuclear power is in free-fall around the world – especially in Western Europe and in the US, where many reactors are being closed without replacement.

Few seem aware of the legal, technical, regulatory, and economic difficulties faced by utilities in building the handful of new reactors and of the crippling costs of shutting down the many old ones. None appears aware of nuclear’s financial meltdown across the globe.

In a perceptive new article published by a prestigious US Ivy League University, Is Nuclear Power Coming To An End? Fred Pearce, a distinguished UK science writer, wrote: “Now come the bankruptcies. In an astonishing hammer blow to a global industry in late March 2017, Westinghouse – the original developer of the workhorse of the global nuclear industry, the pressurized-water reactor (PWR), and for many decades the world’s largest provider of nuclear technology -filed for bankruptcy after hitting big problems with its latest reactor design, the AP1000.

“Largely as a result, its parent company, the Japanese nuclear engineering giant Toshiba, is also in dire financial straits and admits there is ‘substantial doubt’ about its ability to continue as a going concern.

“Meanwhile, France’s state-owned Électricité de France (EDF), Europe’s biggest builder and operator of nuclear power plants, is deep in debt thanks to its own technical missteps and could become a victim of the economic and energy policies of incoming President Emmanuel Macron.

“This is no short-term trend. While gas and renewables get cheaper, the price of nuclear power only rises. This is in large part to meet safety concerns linked to past reactor disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima and to post-9/11 security worries, and also a result of utilities factoring in the costs of decommissioning their aging reactors.”

Pearce concludes by stating “…the industry is in crisis. It looks ever more like a 20th-Century industrial dinosaur, unloved by investors, the public, and policymakers alike. The crisis could prove terminal.”

Most British politicians sail along blissfully innocent of nuclear’s impending denouement, not only in the rest of the world but in the UK too. The Government’s nuclear plans at Hinkley, Wylfa and Moorside are doubtful at best and moribund at worst.

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Dr Ian Fairlie is an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment. He has a degree in radiation biology from Bart’s Hospital in London and his doctoral studies at Imperial College in London and Princeton University in the US concerned the radiological hazards of nuclear fuel reprocessing. Ian was formerly a DEFRA civil servant on radiation risks from nuclear power stations. From 2000 to 2004, he was head of the Secretariat to the UK Government’s CERRIE Committee on internal radiation risks. Since retiring from Government service, he has acted as consultant to the European Parliament, local and regional governments, environmental NGOs, and private individuals.

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