Imagine a protestor, railing against nuclear power in front of a crowd of reporters. Do they have long hair, brightly-coloured trousers and a humorous t-shirt? Excellent. We’re bordering on some dodgy stereotypes, but we all know where you’re coming from.
Now imagine the same scene, but instead of your casual generalisation, imagine an energy company’s CEO, complete with suit and tie, telling the press about the problems with nuclear energy. It doesn’t seem right, does it?
The world went topsy turvy, recently, when Jeff Immelt, chief executive for General Electric, one of the largest names in atomic power, claimed that nuclear power is too expensive and needs to be replaced.
Gas and renewable energy are already on the increase in most countries, due to the unsustainable nature of atomic energy.
Immelt is saying nothing that hasn’t been said before, but hearing it from him will surely give the eco-protestors an extremely useful reference, for the next few years. It’s hard to imagine that his comments, true or not, will have been taken by others within GE’s head office.
General Electric has been at the forefront of the nuclear industry since the 50s, when they built many of the world’s first reactors. 5 years ago, they embarked on a joint venture with Hitachi, ensuring their voice is still important amongst the energy giants.
They may feel aggrieved that their CEO didn’t quote the economic research that expects nuclear plants to produce energy at an equal or cheaper rate than energy produced by natural means (gas, wind or solar), for many years. Instead, Immelt has reminded the world of the problems on the nuclear landscape.
The first two reactors to be built in Europe for 20 years, the Flamanville project in France and the Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland, are suffering from lengthy delays in construction. Combined with the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan, the cost of reactors has rocketed. Some countries, including the economic powerhouse of Germany, have decided to abandon nuclear power, entirely.
The comments may have come from frustration at nuclear energy’s falling importance to GE’s business, but there’s no denying the facts at the heart of them. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for reactors to be built with state subsidy, something that governments are keen to avoid in these tricky financial times.
Reactor construction incurs a huge investment and the risks are great. The Olkiluoto 3 project’s problems have cost an extra $2 billion because of its over-running. This alone is the sort of nightmare that can easily cripple governments, but the thought of a nuclear disaster and the damage it causes, both human and financial, is too much for the strongest stomachs.