Nuclear industry in trouble

The nuclear era can be divided into BF and AF – before and after Fukushima.  The disaster in Japan was a watershed moment, even prompting the normally up beat International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) to issue a statement in September 2011 downgrading their predictions for the growth in the nuclear industry.  The CEO of one of Germany’s power companies said the industry would face ‘extraordinary costs’ due to the resulting market shifts.

Areva’s future uncertain

Areva’s share price halved over the course of 2011, and they are expecting a loss of 2.4 billion euros.  Its flagship EPR nuclear plants in both Flamanville and Olkiluoto are both incomplete, but are set to cost twice as much as originally quoted.  Not only does this drain cash reserves, but also is having a major effect on future orders as market confidence that Areva can deliver on time or on budget is shredded.

Areva has a long history with the South African Government, dating from the 1970’s, and was thought to be the favoured supplied for South Africa’s next foray into nuclear power.

But as the current decline continues for Areva, are any long term assurances reliable?  What are the chances they will be out of business, when it comes to the time for decommissioning the plant, let alone dealing with the long term waste issues?

Siemens pulls out

In Germany, there were two notable effects of Fukushima.  The ruling party, sensing the tide of public opinion after a setback at the polls, reversed its nuclear policy, and decided to shut down all nuclear plants by 2022.  Industrial giant Siemens terminated its agreement with Areva, and vowed not to provide services in the field of nuclear power in the future.

Japan

Japan is reeling from the events which begun on 11 March 2011.  With only 10 of its 54 nuclear reactors operating, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan announcing in May 2011 that no new nuclear plants would be built, Japan is looking like a very poor market for the nuclear industry.  But what about Japanese companies which supply components for nuclear reactors?

Hokkaido is the site of a heavy duty forge operated by Japanese Steel Works, which currently manufactures about 80% of the heavy components for large nuclear reactors. This company is part owned by Hitachi, Mitsibushi, Toshiba and Areva (the French nuclear power company).

Hitachi itself expects about US$10 billion revenue next year from its nuclear power related business.

Mitsubishi has established Mitsubishi Nuclear Energy Systems Inc. (MNES), as well as Mitsubishi FBR Systems, Inc. which was set up specifically to develop fast breeder reactor technology.

Toshiba was hoping for orders of 39 nuclear reactors over the next two years.

The Japanese have decided that nuclear power stations are too risky to build in Japan, but in what seems like disassociation, have decided to export this technology to other countries.  Prime Minister Noda was quoted as saying in December 2011 “It is important for Japan to cooperate with foreign countries by providing technology with high levels of safety”.  Japan is looking to assist Vietnam, Jordan, Russia and South Korea in building nuclear reactors.  It is unclear how exactly it can be justified that nuclear technology is too dangerous to build near Japanese citizens, but not too dangerous for Koreans.

Conclusion

It is understandable that Japanese democracy is no different to any other; in that industry lobbyists have a great influence over politicians.  But surely it is time for the realisation to sink in that the nuclear power industry is dying, and that it is ethically unacceptable to allow Japanese companies to foist the last dribble of nuclear technology on other countries, because somehow foreigners’ lives are worth less than Japanese lives.

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