It is hard to get very far into a discussion of non-fossil fuel energy, and the energy transition, without someone coming along and yammering about nuclear energy.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for inexpensive and safe nuclear power and for building nuclear power plants that promise to eat up all the waste, do not create any more waste, are totally safe, are affordable, are efficient, don’t require the equivalent of slave labor to mine the uranium, and are cost effective. Bring it on!
But the nuclear industry is generally troubled by the fact that this list of promises is not possible. Well, each item on that list can be delivered by this or that technology, but not all in one power plant. And, on top of that, nuclear plants are just too darn expensive to build.
Moments ago, Westinghouse Electric Company, which is owned by Toshiba of Japan, filed for bankruptcy. Westinghouse is a key player in the nuclear industry, globally. This filing is a very big deal, and may signal either the end to or a dramatic slowdown of movement towards expanding nuclear capacity.
And it isn’t just Westinghouse. From the New York Times:
General Electric, a pioneer in the field, has scaled back its nuclear operations, expressing doubt about their economic viability. Areva, the French builder, is mired in losses and undergoing a large-scale restructuring.
Among the winners could be China, which has ambitions to turn its growing nuclear technical abilities into a major export. That has raised security concerns in some countries.
The shrinking field is a challenge for the future of nuclear power, and for Toshiba’s revival plans. Its executives have said they would like to sell all or part of Westinghouse to a competitor, but with a dwindling list of potential buyers — combined with Westinghouse’s history of financial calamity — that has become a difficult task.