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‘Nuclear has never been economic and is dangerous’: study

The German Institute for Economic Research calculates new nuclear plants will face losses of €4.8bn on average

Nuclear power is economically unviable, dangerous and should not be labelled as a clean form of energy, the renowned German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) said, pointing to research it has carried out on the profitability of investments in nuclear power plants.

DIW Berlin is one of the leading economic think tanks in Germany.

According to “numerous scientific studies,” none of the world’s more than 600 nuclear power stations have ever been economically viable, and the plants could only be operated for years due to government subsidies, the institute claims.

“That nuclear energy has never been economically competitive comes as no surprise as electricity production has always only be a by-product. Military and geo-strategical interests have always come first and this energy source has been massively subsidised,” the study’s author Christian von Hirschhausen said.

“Now it is also certain that it won’t be profitable in the future either to invest in atomic energy – neither in new nuclear power plants, nor in the extension of existing ones.

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“If in addition you consider that nuclear power absolutely isn’t safe, the fairy tale of a climate friendly alternative to fossil energy sources completely collapses.”

According to DIW’s business model research, every nuclear power plant being built now can expect to generate an average loss of €4.8bn ($5.37bn). The model takes current and future power prices into account, as well as investment and capital costs.

Under no realistic circumstances can nuclear power plants create a positive net present value, DIW insists, and at best will only generate a loss of €1.6bn.

Germany is exiting nuclear power by the end of 2022, and renewables during the first half of this year have already met 44% of its power needs. But the country has been criticised for emitting more CO2 per capita than European peers such as the UK or France, which currently have less coal- and lignite powered generation while they kept their nuclear fleet running.

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“The idea to fight climate change with nuclear power isn’t new, but we show how false and misleading it is,” DIW energy expert and co-author of the study, Claudia Kemfert, nevertheless said.

“We must also consider that in addition to the business calculations we have made, there are also horrendous costs on top that need to be carried by society, for example for the storage of nuclear waste.”

DIW’s findings are in stark contrasts to those of other experts in the renewable energy sector, such as BloombergNEF founder and senior contributor Michael Liebreich, who claims a decarbonisation of national economies cannot be achieved credibly without dealing explicitly with nuclear power. Liebreich proposes extending the life span of current nuclear plants, and speeding up the development of small modular reactors (SMR's).

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