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Poverty to Dictate Future Power Play



Those who believe that economics, rather than individuals or events, is the driving force behind history are going to have their faith sorely tested in the coming weeks.

Emotion and experience say the revival of nuclear power can not and should not continue after the events at Fukushima. Economics, and the political imperatives that it creates, say it is inevitable.


Те, кто считают, что экономика, а не отдельных лиц или событий, является движущей силой истории будете иметь веру серьезному испытанию в ближайшие недели.

Эмоции и опыт говорят возрождения ядерной энергетики не может и не должно продолжаться и после событий в Фукусима. Экономика и политические императивы, которые она создает, говорят, что это неизбежно.


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German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Wednesday's cabinet meeting in Berlin.

There is no way for a poor country to become a rich country without a big increase in energy consumption. The governments of China and India still have to lift well over a billion people out of poverty. To do that, they are going to have to tap every conceivable source of energy and they won't be able to achieve that without nuclear power.

China alone has 25 reactors under construction. Today it has 8.6 gigawatts of net installed nuclear capacity, according to the World Nuclear Association. That is due to rise to 80 GW-equivalent by the end of this decade and to 400 GWe by 2050. WNA assumptions see 20 GWe of nuclear power online in India by 2020 and 63 GWe by 2032. Between them, the two have plans to build 218 new reactors. That is an increase of almost 50% on the current total worldwide.

Существует никоим образом не для бедной страны, чтобы стать богатой страной без значительного увеличения потребления энергии. Правительства Китая и Индии до сих пор снять более миллиарда людей из бедности. Для этого они собираются, чтобы задействовать все возможные источники энергии, и они не смогут достичь, что без ядерной энергетики.

Только в Китае имеет 25 реакторов в стадии строительства. Сегодня он имеет 8,6 гигаватт чистой установлен ядерный потенциал, по данным Всемирной ядерной ассоциации. Это связано с ростом до 80 ГВт-эквивалентны к концу этого десятилетия и до 400 ГВт к 2050 году. WNA предположения увидеть 20 ГВт ядерных онлайн власти в Индии к 2020 году и 63 ГВт к 2032 году. Между ними, двое планирует построить 218 новых реакторов. Это увеличение почти на 50% на текущий общемировой.

Оn present trends, conventional sources of energy alone can't satisfy that demand, and neither can renewables under any realistic scenario of their future technological development. For these countries, the choice is effectively between nuclear power and poverty. We know which one they will choose.

Hence, it would be amazing if China's suspension of new nuclear build, announced Wednesday, lasts any length of time. Development, under pressure from a thousand other social and political angles, won't wait. The government is, in any case, convinced that the current generation of reactors is far safer than the Fukushima reactors, which were commissioned 30 and 40 years ago, respectively.

The democratic process in India may retard the nuclear program somewhat, but the end result will surely be the same. Anyone in the West who feels like criticizing should try reducing their energy consumption to Indian levels for a few months.

It is quite a different story in Europe, where the eternal trade-off between cost competitiveness, security of supply, environmental sustainability and risk varies strongly from one country to another.

France, which generates more than 80% of its electricity from nuclear, is too deeply committed to the technology to renounce it. In the U.K., public opposition may be better organized, but both the Conservative and Labour parties are committed to supporting nuclear and it will take more than a nuclear disaster to rescue the ratings of the Liberal Democrats, the only one of the major parties to oppose it. Given that the U.K.'s current account (and fiscal position) is under long-term pressure from the depletion of its own fossil fuel reserves, it can hardly afford to refuse any option that allows it to generate domestically.

Things get more delicate in mainland Europe. The progress of nuclear is more likely to be halted in Turkey and Italy, owing to the awareness that it was an earthquake that caused the Fukushima disaster. Never mind that both have long-term current-account problems and no domestic resources, Istanbul has averaged one earthquake every 17 years for the past two millennia. That means any nuclear plant built in Turkey can expect to experience at least two quakes in its lifetime.

For Italy, memories of the destruction of L'Aquila will have to be balanced against a situation in Libya that shows the importance of security of supply. Even if the scheduled referendum allows the government to proceed, Nimbyism in a country with difficult regional politics will be a major obstacle to overcome.

Which leaves Germany. Events have conspired to put pro-nuclear Chancellor Angela Merkel squarely on the wrong side of a public which, scarred by its experience with Chernobyl, won't be able to discuss the issue dispassionately for a year at least. Her reaction to Fukushima—shuttering the older plants temporarily and suspending her plans to extend the lifetime of the rest—is entirely reasonable but won't help her one bit in the two upcoming regional elections.

What it will do is make energy more expensive at a time when global demand for German goods may well be slowing. German power futures are already up 10% since Friday. It will increase the chance that the ruinously expensive subsidies for renewables will last longer than planned (the renewables surcharge in Germany, at 3.53 cents a kilowatt-hour, is higher than the actual wholesale price of electricity in, for example, European Russia.)

When public opinion cools down, Germans may remember that the last time the country promoted an environmental agenda by raising the cost of energy to business, it was labor that ended up taking the strain, with pay cuts, reduced working hours and eroded job security. It will be hard to ask the same sacrifice of labor twice.

In virtually all of the above scenarios, there is one clear winner: Russia. Any rejection of nuclear power by Europe will increase demand for Russian gas, and Germany, Italy and Turkey all have extensive commercial and infrastructure links on which to build.

The same may also be true in Asia. If the democracies of Japan and Korea turn against nuclear, then the economics of developing Gazprom's and Rosneft's assets in eastern Siberia and Sakhalin change radically.

Europe, in particular, can only hope that by the time that realization dawns, it has a better strategy for engaging with its eastern neighbor—and that there are businessmen, rather than secret policemen, on the other side of the negotiating table.
Write to Geoffrey T. Smith at Этот адрес электронной почты защищен от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.