comment for The Guardian, 30 March 2012
The German energy companies, RWE and E.ON, have abandoned plans to build two new nuclear power stations at Wylfa on the island of Anglesey in north Wales and at Oldbury on the Severn estuary. Depending on the interpretation, this is either a “total train wreck” or just a “disappointing” setback for the government’s nuclear ambitions. The truth, of course, is somewhere in between.
A combination of last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, the German government’s subsequent decision to phase out nuclear power and the general economic downturn has long made investments in new reactors look shaky. The sums of money are so large, the potential liabilities so daunting and the financial paybacks so uncertain, that investors have always been wary about nuclear power. Expect more setbacks.
So is nuclear power doomed?
Unlikely. The industry is politically very powerful, and has successfully raised itself from the dead several times in the past. It has prevailed upon successive UK governments to take a series of “facilitative actions” to remove barriers to nuclear development.