15 February 2013 – Greg Kaser, part of the supply chain working group of the World Nuclear Association (WNA) says there is no silver bullet when it comes to increasing faith in nuclear energy. “Public concern has risen and ebbed since the 1960s and major accidents have reinforced a negative perspective on civil nuclear technology. But the biggest hurdle remains investor confidence,” he says.
“Nuclear generated electricity is one of the cheapest forms of power. And it stays that way too. Fossil fuels are more volatile and it is only surplus extraction capacity that pulls their prices down – a temporary advantage that the investment cycle will eliminate eventually. The long term economics are really robust, especially when the costs of converting to a carbon neutral energy system are taken into account.” Nuclear power plants are expensive to build and cheap to run.
That said, Kaser notes that the world is not experiencing a renaissance of nuclear power. “We are nevertheless at an important stage in restoring confidence in the technology. Modern reactor models are under construction in every continent except one, Africa.”
Kaser says that quite rightly Africa is looking to hydroelectricity as the major source of low-carbon power. Even so, several countries have plans to develop nuclear energy. Siting issues are important but so is the institutional framework for regulation, operation and managing social and environmental impacts.
“The protests we have witnessed in India over the reactor projects at Kudankulam and Jaitapur could easily be repeated elsewhere in the developing world. Local communities have to be involved in the siting arrangements, so that they understand how safety is addressed and can make an input from their local knowledge. At both the Indian sites fishermen have proved to be a really crucial group, because of their unwarranted fears that they will not be able to sell their catch due to radiation contamination. At a more mundane level, they worry that the coolant needed by the power plant will make the waters too warm for the species they are fishing for. These are very practical issues and we must learn from the negative public reaction that has occurred when undertaking siting assessments. The power plant will be a major local employer and as a good neighbour should consider supporting appropriate community development.”