Nuclear Power, The Economic Dirty BombPolitics / Nuclear Power Aug 16, 2011 - 12:06 PM GMT
Within the next 15 years as many as 100 industry standard 900 MW nuclear reactors, concentrated in the "old nuclear' countries will have to be decommissioned, dismantled and made safe - unless the sinister farce of reactor operating lifetime extensions goes on playing. In some countries, especially Germany, Switzerland and probably Japan this farce has already ended or could end very soon. When it does, nuclear debt will go into overdrive from its already high gear shift setting.
Nuclear power is capital intensive, lives on subsidies, thrives on false hopes and dies in debt.
Putting a figure on how much the nuclear "decomm" story will cost is in fact impossible - and is signalled by the tell-tale anticipative action of nuclear friendly governments, for example the UK, which now sets decomm as an activity that will only need to start a generous or foolhardy 30 or 40 years after the reactor was powered down and removed from the national power grid. Until then, the reactor can stay on the horizon as a contribution to national culture, or something. Decomm periods could or might be as long as 125 years, according to some nuclear apologists: why not 250 years ?
Staying an extra moment in the UK which this month of August 2011 had a three-day low level civil war outbreak, countered by PM David Cameron with the same phlegmatic repressive "courage" as Bashr el Assad facing his own five-month real civil war in Syria, we get an additional glimpse of nuclear power's real and open ended risks and costs.
In a real civil war, in any country with real nuclear power plants, who exactly is going to tell us these giant Dirty Bombs will not get hit - possibly as early priority targets for insurgents and anti-government forces ? In that case, what will be the economic costs and sequels of this ?
The keyword "disaster" suffers from overuse and erosion, for example the loss of Michael Jackson is a "disaster" for world culture, but nuclear disaster has a real and known meaning. While we do not know and will not know the real cost of the Fukushima 4-reactor meltdown because a period of 10 years is about the minimum needed to get a handle on it, the economic damage and loss from the Chernobyl 1-reactor meltdown has been relatively well costed - over the years since it happened in 1986. At a minimum and in today's depreciating and devaluing dollars, the cost ballpark starts at about $ 250 bn.
To be sure, this is chickenfeed relative to the multi trillion-euro and trillion-dollar sovereign debts being juggled in Europe and the USA (or the 1000 trillion yen sovereign debt of Japan), but it concerns real world spending in the real economy. The leverage relation between the real economy, and the high speed fantasy world of sovereign debts, is hard to estimate but we can suggest that $1 spent in the real economy is equal to at least $100 of funny debt fiat money being refinanced, restructured and extended.
Next we add that these two nuclear catastrophes, grave as they were, extreme as they were, occurred a long way from dense urban areas with high value properties and businesses, and millions of residents. The chance of Nuclear Luck continuing, with rural-type disasters rather than city region disasters, is not guaranteed - but nuclear power's extreme high costs and risks are guaranteed, sure and certain.
Worst-case scenarios for nuclear collateral damage in so-called "mature democracies" facing civil war because of political decisions made by the elite to defend their shrinking middle classes, waking up to the reality they are getting poorer, not richer, are relatively easy to construct. We can likely multiply the Chernobyl tab for economic and loss and damage by a factor of four, for city regional nuclear catastrophes of the future, taking the real economy risk of loss to around $ 1 trillion, a respectable number for players like Obama to put through their teleprompters. The impact of this on already so-fragile national finances and economic confidence in the Old Rich/New Poor countries would be, very simply, catastrophic.
RECYCLE, REUSE AND DEFEND THE ECONOMY
Nuclear waste business, as we know, is not business friendly and leads to the very basic reflex of simply dumping a considerable and growing part of the world's unmanageable nuclear wastes from the current world fleet of around 436 operating civil reactors (depending on how many Japanese reactors are brought back into service). Proliferation risks are in a decidedly Olde Worlde 1950s-way restricted only to conventional explosive nuclear weapons - totally ignoring both Depleted Uranium weapons using and "recycling" nuclear wastes, value-adding too, and the future Dirty Bombs which with almost no possible doubt will be used in coming civil wars and international wars. Both of these nuclear war options are above all cheap, and of course dirty.
Since the 1991 Gulf War 1 against Iraq, the war against Afghanistan starting in 2001, and second war against Iraq of 2003, at least 2500 tons of Depleted Uranium weapons have been used by the US, UK and France in these delightfully far away and "over the horizon" Indiana Jones type war theaters - causing a conservatively estimated 10 000 cancer deaths, and as many as 50 000 living sufferers of cancer in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has easily calculated economic consequences - when this concerns white democratic middle class sufferers of the same types of cancers: roughly $ 40 000 for a cancer death and $ 25 000-per-year fur surviving cancer sufferers.
To be sure these cancer deaths and injuries are chickenfeed in relation to the civilian deaths and refugees caused by the West's "pre-emptive" attack against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and its virtual stock of Mass Destruction weapons, and revenge crusade against the Taliban for so expertly organizing the demolition of New York's Twin Towers in 2001, exactly like the ratio of real economy damage cause by nuclear power and the notional debt mountains of the formerly-rich countries. However, total civilian deaths in these two completely illegal wars - probably more than 250 000 - and the real suffering caused to millions by these illegal wars will we can hope some day give way to reparations, which will be payable and due, exactly like debt repayment by the Old Rich/New Poor countries. The "cute idea" of recycling nuclear wastes as DU ordnance will generate the economic damage that these filthy weapons should generate. Those who profit from misery will finally pay.
To be sure, this cozy morality is fine - as long as the best0by date for muddling through is way in the future. When it comes home to roost with the very shrinking number of bird numbers - even bird species - this is another kettle of also rapidly depleting open ocean fish.
LOSS AVOIDANCE IS THE ONLY SOLUTION
Turning off the nuclear tap will soon become the only solution. With civil nuclear power plant growth and proliferation already cancelled in several countries, including Germany, Japan and Switzerland and likely to be placed on hold because of nuclear debt and the sheer un-economic nature of nuclear power in other countries - to be sure with China and India coming very late to the party - we can be sure that Nuclear Nirvana's murky underside of a Pandora's Box of evils will soon cause a sea shift in ruling elite thinking.
Options exist for the rapid removal of nuclear power from the scene. Since 2008, in more than a half of OECD countries exposed to the realities of the sovereign debt crisis, electricity consumption has fallen by double-digit amounts in 3 years. The need for nuclear power is cut by this real world trend. To be sure there are long-term and rising nuclear debts due to accumulated wastes and to the near-term future crisis of reactor decommissioning - which should (in a sane world) only hasten the total abandonment of this failed option for supplying "cheap, clean and safe" power.
The options are better known than ever. The pathology of "we didnt know" has worn awfully thin after the Fukushima disaster. The same applies to Depleted Uranium weapons, so nicely reserved for expert commentators to pontificate on - but which cause cancers and economic loss every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The choices and options are on the table for those who want to admit them. Unfortunately our current political decider elite is congenitally unable to admit them. Soldiering along and muddling through with the deadly, high cost option of nuclear power will continue - but not for long.
By Andrew McKillop
Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights
Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.
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