How’s that nuclear renaissance coming along?

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images Last summer I wrote briefly about the “nuclear renaissance,” the widely anticipated shift to nuclear power as oil prices skyrocket and concern about global warming increases. Such anticipation has given rise to comments like this one, from the head of the French nuclear giant Areva: We are facing a nuclear renaissance. Nuclear’s ...

597123_nukes_08.jpg
597123_nukes_08.jpg

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Last summer I wrote briefly about the "nuclear renaissance," the widely anticipated shift to nuclear power as oil prices skyrocket and concern about global warming increases. Such anticipation has given rise to comments like this one, from the head of the French nuclear giant Areva:

We are facing a nuclear renaissance. Nuclear's not the devil anymore. The devil is coal."

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Last summer I wrote briefly about the “nuclear renaissance,” the widely anticipated shift to nuclear power as oil prices skyrocket and concern about global warming increases. Such anticipation has given rise to comments like this one, from the head of the French nuclear giant Areva:

We are facing a nuclear renaissance. Nuclear’s not the devil anymore. The devil is coal.”

Earlier this month, predictions of a nuclear renaissance were seemingly borne out in Britain, when the government announced its support for the construction of new nuclear power plants in the country to replace the current, aging fleet of reactors. All but one of Britain’s nuclear power plants, which together supply 20 percent of the country’s electricity, are slated to close by 2023. Because the lead time for constructing new reactors is so long (due to regulatory and construction requirements), a decision to replace the current fleet must be made soon.

The fine print of the British government’s decision, though, highlights just how uncertain the nuclear renaissance still is. Energy companies will almost certainly pay the full costs of building and operating the new plants in the UK, but it remains unclear whether this will be economically feasible for them—especially since the government hasn’t determined how nuclear waste will be disposed and who will pay for it. But the British public is warming to the idea of nuclear power, so there may be increasing pressure on policymakers to find solutions to these issues.

Not so in Germany, where opposition to nukes remains deeply entrenched. A program to completely phase out the country’s nuclear power generation has been in place for seven years. Politicians and the public remain supportive of eliminating nuclear power, but polls show most Germans have no sense of how much their country currently relies on nuclear energy. This may have something to do with Germany’s near-fanatical fondness for solar power. Polls also show that 63 percent of Germans believe solar power can provide most of their energy needs over the next three decades. (In fact, only 0.4 percent of cloudy Germany’s electricity is solar-generated.)

With prospects for a global nuclear renaissance still murky, it should not be surprising that the big nuclear energy companies like Areva in France or RWE and E.ON in Germany are casting their sights on Britain for new business opportunities. Within Germany, though, we may soon find out whether other types of low-carbon energy sources are ultimately feasible for large-scale electricity production. If not, technologies like nuclear energy or carbon capture for coal power will need a second look.

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