The renaissance of the nuclear power industry appears to be in a holding pattern. The two big problems: Lack of funding for the expensive construction of the reactors, and public scepticism about nuclear waste.
EE News attended a two-day nuclear energy conference last week and reported that Ute Blohm-Hieber, head of nuclear energy and waste management at the European Commission, agreed that waste is the “Achilles’ heel of the nuclear industry.” What’s interesting is that the news org didn’t have any word from the conference of workable solutions to the problem.
The industry is keenly aware, however, that its poor image is largely due not to a lack of good PR but to a dearth of satisfactory solutions to the tricky problem of nuclear waste. “To have public support, we need to solve the final disposal issue,” said E.ON’s Güldner.
In the U.S. this might not be too big a concern, if a recently released Gallup Poll can be trusted. They found that 56% of the people polled thought nuclear power was safe. But it takes more than public support to get nuclear power projects up and operational. It takes many wheelbarrows filled with cash, and that’s something that isn’t happening anytime soon:
Xavier de Rollat, director of corporate and investment banking at Société Générale, calculated that as of January 2009, three dozen new reactors were being planned in Europe (excluding Russia and Ukraine); this means that a minimum of €100 billion in investments will likely be required.
The problem, observed de Rollat, is that “all the major European utilities have taken a hit on their balance sheets” from the “brutal impact” of the economic crisis on the European economy. He said there is much uncertainty, since “we don’t know if the energy markets — oil, gas, European emissions rights and power prices — have reached their lowest levels.”
De Rollat put the financing of the “renaissance” into a crude financial perspective: European banks, he says, are believed to have 75 per cent as much exposure to U.S. toxic debt as American banks and have been slower to take write-downs ($740 billion dollars in the United States versus $300 billion in Europe). In addition, E.U. banks have $1,600 billion of exposure to Eastern Europe.
Added de Rollat, “European new-build projects face competition for access to [financial] resources” at a time when banks all over the world are much more selective in their lending because money is so scarce.
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