25 years After Chernobyl: Is a Nuclear Renaissance Likely?

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Picture by Heinrich Böll Foundation


Following the nuclear accident at the Fukushima power plant, and in advance of the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung and the Worldwatch Institute hosted a transatlantic roundtable. The discussion focused on the current state of nuclear power in the world. At the roundtable, the panelists discussed the current economic, political and historical trends affecting the nuclear energy industry and its prospects for the future. Ralf Fücks (Heinrich Böll Stiftung), Chris Flavin (Worldwatch Institute) and Linda Gunter (Beyond Nuclear) stressed the moral and economic rationale for moving beyond a reliance on nuclear energy towards a cleaner and safer energy future.

Global nuclear power production is declining

The accident at the Fukushima power plant illustrates the hazardous risks of nuclear energy production. Still, as was noted by Chris Flavin, despite the wide-spread notion that the world is experiencing a nuclear energy renaissance, historical trends indicate that the production is declining worldwide. Notably, severe nuclear incidents have historically reduced the public, political and economic support for nuclear energy. Thus, after Fukushima, countries across the world are taking measures to reduce, or at least make safer, the future production of nuclear energy. Nevertheless, due to differing energy security challenges and political attitudes towards nuclear power, countries have responded in a varied way to Fukushima. The response in the United States against nuclear energy has been much more muted than that in Germany, where anti-nuclear sentiments yielded large political gains for the German Green Party during recent state elections. Because of the risks posed by nuclear power production and its updated assessment, the German government immediately closed down eight of Germany’s seventeen reactors, likely for good.

Nuclear power can be best described as antiquated energy socialism

The speakers unmasked the numerous myths of nuclear power. A nuclear renaissance is happening only to the extent of announcing projects. Those few places where new projects are actually being started are mostly states with authoritarian governments, such as China. Ralf Fücks argued that nuclear power is energy socialism which cannot survive in a free-market economy, but depends like no other energy on government subsidies and hidden costs for taxpayers. Nuclear power is too costly and poses grave security risks that no reinsurer would insure. While nuclear is often touted for its supposed modernity, it is in fact antiquated 20th century energy, with huge spending demands, long-term, yet relatively minimal investment yields and rising costs of production. The future energy system is smarter, more flexible, and decentralized. Yet despite the additional safety and environmental risk, as was criticized by Linda Gunter, the Obama administration considers nuclear energy a vital component of the future of the American low-carbon economy. In light of the overall concerns, panelists raised doubts that the nuclear industry both in the U.S. and abroad can address the moral, safety and economic challenges that are on the table.