Re: Demise of nuclear is being exaggerated, March 3. As the author of The Future of Nuclear Energy to 2030 and its Implications for Safety, Security and Non-Proliferation, released by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) last month, I wish to respond to Patrick Moore's reading of it. Contrary to Moore's reading, the report does pour cold water on the notion of a global nuclear energy revival. While it is true that 52 nuclear power plants are currently under construction, several have been "under construction" for years, sometimes decades, some are resumed construction of abandoned projects and a couple are tiny experimental Russian reactors. Despite refurbishments and life extensions, some of this growth will be outweighed by the closure of old plants. The major, actual new construction, as opposed to optimistic projections by the hardly disinterested World Nuclear Association, is restricted to China. As a percentage of global electricity production, nuclear energy has declined since 2000. This does not a renaissance make. The major barrier is economics. These are profoundly unfavourable to nuclear energy and getting worse, compared to coal, natural gas and alternative clean energy sources, as the government of Ontario has discovered. The cost per reactor can go as high as $10 billion U.S. -- and they can take up to 10 years to build. Cost overruns and construction delays are legion. While a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system and government subsidies would make nuclear more competitive, investors in increasingly deregulated electricity markets need to be certain of these now. A climate change regime that sets a stable, predictable price on carbon is regrettably a long way off, while governments burned by costly investments in the first wave of nuclear energy are reluctant to repeat the exercise. Even President Barack Obama's recent tripling of loan guarantees for "first entrants" does not guarantee a U.S. revival. Contrary to Moore's claim, independent researchers have calculated that, in terms of carbon emissions avoided per dollar spent, nuclear is among the most expensive options, taking lifetime costs into account, not the cheapest. And of course the nuclear waste issue has not yet been resolved. The report does not raise "false alarms" about the safety of nuclear plants, but notes the progress made internationally since the Chernobyl accident. What it does say is that any global nuclear revival needs to be accompanied by strengthened global governance in the areas of nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation. One more Chernobyl, a nuclear terrorism incident, or one more country acquiring nuclear weapons as a result of a purported peaceful program (as Iran is currently attempting to do) would be a disaster, not least for the nuclear industry itself. It is in no small part due to Greenpeace, under Patrick Moore's leadership, that the world was alerted to the dangers of lax governance of nuclear energy and weapons proliferation. All the CIGI report is saying is that we should avoid complacency and urgently fix the flaws in the current system, not least by strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency, if nuclear energy expansion is to proceed. Trevor Findlay, Director of the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University and Senior Fellow, The Centre for International Governance Innovation.
The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.