The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 – by Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt (July 2013)

(Above) Pandora’s Promise – Official Clip #1 (HD) Documentary

For the full report, click here:

Foreword by Peter A. Bradford, Adjunct Professor, Vermont Law School, teaching “Nuclear Power and Public Policy”, former commissioner U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Co.

Nuclear power requires obedience, not transparency. The gap between nuclear rhetoric and nuclear reality has been a fundamental impediment to wise energy policy decisions for half a century now. For various reasons in many nations, the nuclear industry cannot tell the truth about its progress, its promise or its perils. Its backers in government and in academia do no better.

Rhetorical excess from opponents of nuclear power contributes to the fog, but proponents have by far the heavier artillery. During the rise and fall of the bubble formerly known as “the nuclear renaissance” in the U.S. many of their tools have been on full display.

Academic and governmental studies a decade ago understated the likely cost of new reactors and overstated their potential contribution to fighting climate change. By 2006 a few U.S. state legislatures had been enticed to expose utility customers to all the risks of building new reactors.Industry-sponsored conferences persuaded businesses and newspapers of an imminent jobs bonanza, ignoring job losses resulting from high electric rates and passing up cheaper, more labor intensive alternatives. These local groups added to the pressure on Congress for more subsidies.

France and Japan were held out as examples of countries that had avoided the timidity and overregulation that had stalled nuclear construction in the U.S. Indeed, it was argued, these nations had even solved the waste problem through their commitment to reprocessing spent fuel.

At times inconsistent tales were told simultaneously. Thus the U.S. Congress was told that the new
licensing process and the new generic designs were so untried and environmental opposition so
formidable that loan guarantees were needed to lay the risks off on taxpayers. At the same time Wall
Street and state legislatures were assured that these new features had chloroformed public opposition
and otherwise laid to rest the terrifying industry ghosts embodied by the nine figure dollar losses at
Shoreham, Seabrook, WPPSS, and Midland, sites that resonate in U.S. nuclear folklore like Civil
War battlefield names.

The renaissance story line was hard to resist. By early 2009, applications for 31 new reactors were
pending at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The promises came garnished with tales of
remorseful changes of heart from oft-obscure nuclear converts. With few exceptions, the news media
– especially television with its thirst for the short and the simple – fell for the renaissance story line.

It is all in ruins now. The 31 proposed reactors are down to four actually being built and a few others
lingering on in search of a license, which is good for 20 years. Those four are hopelessly uneconomic
but proceed because their state legislatures have committed to finish them as long as a dollar remains
to be taken from any electric customer’s pocket. Operating reactors are being closed as uneconomic
for the first time in fifteen years.

Still the band plays on. President Obama recently touted new reactors as part of his “all of the above”
policy on climate change. But is “all of the above” really a policy? Do we build palaces to avert
housing shortages? Don’t we instead prioritize, based on the best information available? U.S.
secretaries of energy enthuse that the four new reactors will be completed “on time and on budget”,
never mind that they are already behind and over and that “on budget” will mean “well above the
cost of creating equivalent low carbon energy more sensibly”.

As always in the face of failure, the industry puts forth new designs as a basis for new promises, now
touting small modular reactors with the same fervor that it touted large partially modular reactors a
decade ago. Congress finds a few hundred million to preserve these dreams even as its cutbacks
shatter so many others.

A new movie, Pandora’s Promise (no filmmaker familiar with nuclear history would include
“promise” in a title intended to be pronuclear(1), recently screened at Sundance.

Featuring the same old converts and straw men, it opened in theaters a few weeks ago to tiny
audiences and generally unenthusiastic reviews, especially from reviewers knowledgeable about
nuclear power(2).

In the astonishing persistence of the global appetite for false nuclear promises lies the critical
importance of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

The Report sets forth in painstaking detail the actual experience and achievements of nuclear energy
around the world. It is based for the most part on generally accepted data distinctively graphed for
clearer understanding. Where the authors introduce judgment, they explain what they have done and
why. The Report has a track record stretching back years. It is much better than the embarrassing
exuberances of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Nuclear Association or the
pronouncements of most national governments. If more journalists would use it for reference, their
readers would be spared much of the foolishness that they must now consume.

Most of the myths on which the purported nuclear renaissance rested founder on the rocks of the
information presented here.

Is new nuclear power cheaper than alternative ways of meeting energy needs? Of course not. What
about low carbon “baseload” alternatives? See page 73ff. Can a country grow its economy by
building nuclear reactors? What don’t you understand about the employment consequences of
imposing rate shock on industrial and commercial customers? Are the consequences of the
Fukushima meltowns really being overstated by antinuclear activists? Maybe, but see the chapter on
the status of Fukushima.

In short, the nuclear renaissance –whatever it may be called throughout the world – has always
consisted entirely of the number of reactors whose excess costs governments were prepared to make
mandatory for either customers or taxpayers. Investor capital cannot be conscripted. Investors of the
sort that nuclear power must attract study risks carefully. They know the information in this report,
and so should everyone else with responsibility for energy decisions that allocate nuclear risk.

(1) A more accurate use of the word is in M.V. Ramana’s aptly titled and excellent history of India’s nuclear
follies, The Power of Promise (Penguin Viking, 2012).

(2) For an insightful example, see Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski, “Pandora’s Promise: Is the Issue Really
Environmental”, Nuclear Intelligence Weekly, June 21, 2013,

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