Nuclear Energy, the Ultimate Hubris

Nuclear Energy, the Ultimate Hubris by  for The Automatic Earth

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything at all about nuclear energy. And even then I thought the whole discussion had been wrapped up and thrown away. But I guess it’s inevitable that as the climate change debate develops, there’d be parties seeking to revive the nukes ‘discussion’, because there’s so much potential profit in there. And then today I came upon this report, and a few interpretations of it, that set me off again, and brought back the whole Yucca Mountain issue to mind.

Please note that in all that follows, there is ONE very obvious notion to keep in mind: nuclear energy is a huge economic loss-maker, no matter how and where you look.

And that makes nukes, right from the get-go, completely unfit to replace anything fossil-fuel based, because coal and oil and gas are sources that do the opposite: they generate huge profits while nukes generate huge losses, i.e.: you can’t run your economy on nuclear. You can not run an economy on any energy source that generates economic losses. It does NOT get simpler than that. It’s the economics of energy, and for once economics are right (though not economists, name me one who understands this. Hi, Steve!).

Mind you, you can’t run our present complex economies and societies on renewables either, no more than you can run them on nuclear. Much simpler economies, sure, but then you will have to figure out how you’re going to pay for that. It’s hard to comprehend to which extent fossil fuels have shaped our world, but we have no choice but to try, because this is one thing you don’t want to get wrong.

The report comes from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), which studied 674 nuclear power plants built since 1951. Their own abstract says the following:

Nuclear Power Is Not an Option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix

The debate on effective climate protection is heating up in Germany and the rest of the world. Nuclear energy is being touted as “clean” energy. Given the circumstances, the present study analyzed the historical, current, and future costs and risks of nuclear energy. The findings show that nuclear energy can by no means be called “clean” due to radioactive emissions, which will endanger humans and the natural environment for over one million years. And it harbors the high risk of proliferation. An empirical survey of the 674 nuclear power plants that have ever been built showed that private economic motives never played a role.


Instead military interests have always been the driving force behind their construction. Even ignoring the expense of dismantling nuclear power plants and the long-term storage of nuclear waste, private economy-only investment in nuclear power plant would result in high losses— an average of five billion euros per nuclear power plant, as one financial simulation revealed. In countries such as China and Russia, where nuclear power plants are still being built, private investment does not play a role either. Nuclear power is too expensive and dangerous; therefore it should not be part of the climate-friendly energy mix of the future.

In other words, nuclear energy is already a huge economic loser even before decommissioning and waste storage are taken into consideration, and those last two costs are by far the largest. So much so that it even makes precious little sense to calculate nuke costs without including decommissioning and waste storage costs. But people do it, and they get paid for that….

A site called Renew Economy, which appears to be Australian, has this comment on the DIW report (they’re one of the few I found that had any comment at all):

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