Mycle Schneider, Energy Consultant, Paris, France

"Nuclear energy is no longer competitive"

Mycle Schneider is an energy and nuclear policy consultant. He was born in Germany and has been living in France for over 30 years. He advises the municipal government in Seoul, South Korea, and is a founding member and spokesperson of the Internatinoal Energy Avisory Council (IEAC). He was awarded the 'alternative Nobel Prize' in 1997.

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"New nuclear plants can no longer be financed under today's market economy conditions. Only one country, which has a lot of money, can afford them on a large scale: China, where 40 per cent of the world's nuclear power plants being built. At least three quarters of all power plants under construction are often years behind in planning. Components, concrete and welding seams are failing quality control standards because the technical specifications are not being met. In general, the very high quota of foreign workers – it amounts to one-third one the Flamanville construction site in France – is resulting in a jumble of languages and corresponding misunderstandings. Management lack experience in planning and are executing increasingly more complex projects. All of this has made it more expensive over the past many years to build nuclear power plants. What is new is that more and more existing plants are running at the limit of profitability. In France, for example, production costs have risen by 20 per cent in the past three years. This price increase can be observed around the world, and it explains why recently in the US, two nuclear power plants were no longer able to get sell their production on the power exchange market – it was too expensive. But the reasons for the cost increase don't lie in more stringent safety regulations alone; for many years, too little was invested and was only cashed in. The plants now have to been completely overhauled. In the new cost reality in France, for example, electricity from the nuclear giant Électricité de France (EDF) no longer has a chance against a small company, which offers 100 per cent certified green electricity. And in the US, solar powered is offered on the market for less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Nuclear power is no longer competitive.
A law was adopted in France in October 2014 that drastically reduces the share of nuclear energy: it will be reduced from 75 to 50 per cent by 2025, which means that depending on energy consumption, 20 or more nuclear power plants will have to be shut down. The nuclear phase-out in Germany appears rather modest in comparison.
The traditional, large electricity providers are not doing well at all. The value of the 20 largest energy companies in Europe has shrunk by half since 2008. EDF, the world's biggest provider of electricity generated from nuclear energy, and Germany's E.ON have plummeted by over 70 per cent. This is leading to a high pressure on savings. It's also being felt in areas of concern, such as storage costs for spare parts. In France there have already been cases where old gaskets were installed in pumps because new ones were no longer available. The bill for nuclear power plants around the world would look even more hefty if you were to genuinely learn the lessons from Fukushima and correct certain safety issues. And in light of the planned shutdowns, questions concerning the costs of demolition and nuclear waste disposal arise with new urgency. Time is of the essence. In France, decommissioning has to begin immediately with shutdown, which means that the money has to be available. Time is short because the energy revolution is already under way. Future systems will no longer be vertically integrated with large power plants that transport electricity over long distances to end users. Tomorrow's energy systems will instead be integrated horizontally, similar to the internet, with decentralised production and consumption. In Australia there are already over two million electricity producers; in Germany it's around 1.4 million. Consumers are becoming self-sufficient thanks to solar power, for instance. In English we already speak of 'prosumers', i.e. producers and consumers in one. But we're still lacking corresponding grids. We need intelligent microgrids that can substantially contribute to the flexible adjustment of production, storage and consumption.
But the most difficult change takes place in our heads. No one needs kilowatt hours, barrels of oil or cubic metres of gas. Instead we need energy services that can be divided into six basic categories: cooked food, heating/cooling, lighting, mobility, communications and motor power. This requires a new way of thinking, a new culture – from everyone involved. Passive solutions are always preferable to active systems: we should first enhance the use of natural daylight before turning to efficient, active lighting systems. Daylight increases well-being and productivity. The substantial energy savings is a cost-saving side effect. Likewise, we should first improve thermal insulation and only afterwards replace the heating. When we generate heating, electricity and gas locally, it reduces system losses. This is pure physics.
The future will include intelligent energy services such as the data centre that places its microprocessors in hundreds of apartments to be used as radiators. This dramatically reduces its cooling costs, provides free heating and at the same time allows it to offer its computing power at unbeatable low prices."

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