Fri, Sep 14, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Nuclear power industry not mature

By Gloria Hsu 徐光蓉

The reactor has yet to start operations, but its cost has already exceeded 10 billion euros, causing massive losses that Areva almost had to declare bankruptcy, had it not been dissolved and restructured into the state-owned electric utility company Electricite de France.

Nor has construction of the same model in France been completed, as the contractor is still addressing flaws discovered during construction, while costs have reached 10.9 billion euros.

What the EPR and AP1000 models have in common is their claims of simplified designs and cheaper costs — both of which have gone awry after construction began.

Following major nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Dai-ichi, nuclear power businesses have tried to regain the public’s confidence with conceptual reactor designs that they say are more efficient, safer and simpler.

The question is whether these designs, which look miraculous on paper, can be built and if they can meet the targets.

When production increases, most businesses — such as manufacturers of LED displays, cellphones or photovoltaic technologies — follow a linear learning curve, gaining experience as lead times shorten and costs drop.

However, the nuclear energy industry is an exception, as every unit differs slightly from previous ones, there is a negative learning curve, with construction getting more expensive and time-consuming.

Despite the delays and rising costs, many nuclear energy advocates continue to have full confidence in the technology, saying that an “extremely simple” and “absolutely safe” reactor that will “never be used to develop nuclear weapons” is on the horizon and will dispel all doubts.

These people place high hopes on thorium-based reactors, small modular reactors and molten-salt reactors, among other new designs, but they are still at the stage of computational design and their feasibility remains uncertain.

We still do not know whether these reactors will live up to expectations or if new problems will occur.

Conceptual models and prototypes are not finished products. Nuclear energy should be a mature industry after almost 70 years of development and the industry should not evade problems and continue to try to win over the public by talking about “brand-new concepts.”

Concepts need finished products to prove they work.

The Longmen Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮), which is wrought with flaws and problems, is the best evidence of that.

Gloria Hsu is the director of Mom Loves Taiwan, a group of mothers against nuclear power.

Translated by Chang Ho-ming

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