Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Uranium Investments Grow Radioactive


At least, that is what the Wall Street Journal is reporting:
Spencer Jakab (Sep. 18, 2016). Uranium Investments Grow Radioactive. The Wall Street Journal,
http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-uranium-investments-will-remain-radioactive-1474225882

No commodity faces the unique pressure that uranium and nuclear fuel do and there is little prospect of a near-term recovery. There is too much of nearly every commodity in the world today. Then there is uranium.

The outlook for the element that powers nuclear reactors may be worse than for any other, and there is almost no prospect for improvement soon. Unlike other commodities, low prices won’t stimulate demand.

There are several reasons for the weakness, some obvious, others surprising. The result has been the price of triuranium octoxide, which surged 1,400% in the five years through June 2007 to $136 a pound, is now about $25. And the price of fuel processing has dropped by nearly two-thirds since 2010.

The obvious reasons are the shutdown of nuclear power plants after the 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan. Plants also shut down in Germany, Sweden, and elsewhere, while Belgium and Taiwan may be next. Even China, the leading growth market for nukes, enacted a delay in plant approvals. Meanwhile, the fracking revolution made some planned and existing U.S. plants uneconomical.
Why is uranium tanking? The answers are obvious. It is a HIGHLY RISKY and EXPENSIVE source of energy, as I explain in my book on crisis communications, liberal democracy, and ecological sustainability (see here).


Nuclear energy is used primarily for electricity production but provides less than 7 percent of the world’s energy consumption and 17 percent of the world’s electricity production.[i] Nuclear energy’s purported benefit is carbon reduction, but uranium extraction, processing, and nuclear waste management are carbon intensive processes and processing of nuclear fuel produces Krypton-85, a suspected greenhouse gas.

Long-term storage of nuclear waste presents unresolved long-term environmental and security concerns, especially nuclear weapons proliferation.

The nuclear complex is composed of a relatively small group of upstream uranium producers and refiners, both private and state owned, midstream uranium distributors and traders, and downstream nuclear utilities and electrical distribution networks (such as Exelon in the US and TEPCO in Japan).

The nuclear complex also consists of nuclear engineering or related technology enterprises (such as General Electric, Hitachi, and Areva), industry groups, scientists whose research is funded by the industry or government allies, and national and international nuclear regulatory agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). The nuclear complex can be thought more broadly to include military applications as well, a form of interdependency that is illustrated by the Fukushima nuclear crisis.[ii]

Nuclear has proven to be economically inefficient and poses catastrophic risks in the event of accidents. Research by Lelieveld, Kunkel, and Lawrence published in the journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, predicts a severe nuclear accident every ten to twenty years.[iii] The world’s nuclear plants are aging and accident rates are likely to increase while the risks of proliferation are exacerbated by the nuclear complex’s promotion of “uprating” and plutonium-enriched uranium fuel (MOX).

Despite the risks of contamination and proliferation, nuclear is being promoted as a long-term strategy to diversify global energy production. The nuclear industry is itself aggressively fighting obscurity through a variety of means, illustrated by the nuclear utilities’ efforts to kill alternative energy in the US, documented by Mark Cooper in his 2015 report, Power Shift: The Deployment of a 21st Century Electricity Sector and the Nuclear War to Stop It.[iv]
Despite their efforts, the facts speak for themselves. Nuclear is highly polluting. Nuclear poses SAFETY and SECURITY risks. There is no satisfactory solution to nuclear waste storage. Nuclear is a dead end for humanity.


RESOURCES


[i] Brenda Shaffer, Energy Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2009), 14.

[ii] Majia Nadesan, Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk (London: Palgrave, 2013), 14-29.

[iii] Jos Lelieveld, Daniel Kunkel and Mark G. Lawrence, “Global Risk of Radioactive Fallout after Major Nuclear Reactor Accidents,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 12 (2012): accessed, July 13, 2012, doi: 10.5194/acp-12-4245-2012.

[iv] Mark Cooper, “Power Shift: The Deployment of a 21st Century Electricity Sector and the Nuclear War to Stop It,” University of Vermont Law School (2015): http://www-assets.vermontlaw.edu/Assets/iee/Power_Shift_Mark_Cooper_June_2015.PDF.

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