The price of fear: how nuclear power plants fell victim to mass culture and can they take revenge

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The price of fear: how nuclear power plants fell victim to mass culture and can they take revenge
The price of fear: how nuclear power plants fell victim to mass culture and can they take revenge
Anonim

Once the nuclear industry became the center of an economic boom, comparable only to the oil one. Then a series of strange events led to non-market pressure on her. As a result, Western players began to lose their skills in building new nuclear power plants. Today, some of the “atomic” competencies in the West have been lost: new nuclear power plants are not being built everywhere, but where it comes up, as in Hungary and Finland, they often plan to attract a non-Western contractor (Rosatom). The construction of new nuclear reactors by Western companies is still incredibly expensive. Why did it happen and why did the Russian nuclear industry avoid this fate?

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In 1988, nuclear power produced 17.08% of all electricity on Earth, and in 2018 - only 10.21%. The total compression of its share during this time is 1, 6 times. Shrinking the share of nuclear power seems paradoxical.

Indeed, we live in a world where all developed countries unanimously consider global warming to be the main problem. Until the 2000s, 15 billion tons of CO2 were added annually to the atmosphere (since most of the anthropogenic emissions are absorbed by the ocean and plants). Carbon dioxide emissions from coal alone are approximately 15 billion tons per year.

Based on the numbers, without burning coal, global warming, in principle, could not become a noticeable problem. Coal energy could well have been replaced by nuclear energy in the last century - and then the scale of global warming, in principle, would not have reached today's.

The opposite is also true: if nuclear power had not emerged, and today its kilowatt-hours were produced from coal, the concentration of the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere would grow a quarter faster: coal-fired thermal power plants would emit into the air almost four billion tons of CO2 per year more than today.

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This is not to say that no one understands this. Back at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, a simple thought was voiced: thermal power plants that emit carbon dioxide should be replaced with “carbon-free” ones that do not. And among the voiced carbon-free types of generation - wind, solar, hydro and nuclear power. Together they are referred to as the "green square".

From a purely technical point of view, it seems obvious that only the first three "corners of the square" cannot cover the need for carbon-free generation. Large rivers are not everywhere, the wind does not always blow, and in the interior of the continents they rarely reach the required strength. The peak of energy consumption in countries with a temperate climate is in winter, when there is tragically little sun there. Finally, the bulk of all the energy in the world around comes from that which is inside the atoms.

This means that in the role of the so-called basic generation, nuclear power looks extremely promising. Everyone, from Greta Thunberg to the UN Secretary General, notes that the fight against climate change is extremely slow. At the same time, it is obvious that it is nuclear power plants that could most quickly reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere - and it was precisely the reduction of carbon dioxide concentration that was the main topic discussed in Paris in 2015.

Why, in spite of this, its share in the world has not shown noticeable growth for decades?

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This is usually explained by accidents: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima.As we will show below, in fact, the decline in mass nuclear construction began before any large-scale accidents at nuclear power plants and had no direct connection with them. Moreover, the experience of accidents confirms the correctness of a number of researchers: NPP - despite Chernobyl and the rest - is much safer than almost all types of electric power, not excluding wind.

How did it happen that the share of this type of energy, which once experienced extremely rapid growth, has decreased over the past decades? What were the reasons for such an undeserved slowdown and why in the future the situation may turn 180 degrees?

This article is also available in podcast format.

With whom to compare

Everything is relative. Therefore, if we want to understand the strengths or weaknesses of a phenomenon, we must find out what are the strengths and weaknesses of its competitors. Who were his rivals at the beginning of the atomic era and today?

According to the media, in the past, the energy sector was “dirty”, based on fossil fuels and with very little renewable generation. Now they are building a lot of wind turbines and solar panels, and the "weighted average" kilowatt has become much cleaner. However, dry facts do not support this view of things.

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In 1971, 39.52% of all electricity in the world was obtained from coal, and in 2014 - 41.1%, that is, even more (in 2018 - about 39%). Hydroelectric power plants and other types of renewable generation in 1971 accounted for 24, 32% of all electricity, and in 2018 - 25, 22%. It turns out that coal during this time has added its share more than renewable energy.

Burning hydrocarbons (remember: coal is not a hydrocarbon), people received 31.77% of all electricity in 1971 (then - mainly fuel oil), and in 2018 - about 25% (now it is mainly gas). It turns out that since the 1970s the share of coal and renewable energy has remained almost unchanged, but hydrocarbons have noticeably "sagged".

That is, the key competitor of nuclear energy - and the main type in the world - has been and will be for a very long time, coal, which accounts for almost 20% of generation in Russia (about half the global share). How does it look against the background of an atom?

The overwhelming majority of us do not know anything about this, and even if they think about it, they believe that the dust from burning coal leads only to mild illnesses - and nothing more. But over the past decades, a number of scientific works have revealed a fundamentally different picture.

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Each person passes through their lungs 15 kilograms of air every day. Our airways effectively screen out only particles larger than 10 micrometers (one hundredth of a millimeter), and anything smaller (called PM 10 and PM 2.5) passes through the lungs directly into the blood. In the bloodstream, these particles, when sufficiently concentrated, become the center of blood clots. The presence of blood clots provokes strokes and, no less dangerous, heart attacks.

In nature, before the advent of modern civilization, such a situation was rare. Outside large deserts, a person has nowhere to pick up the "natural" particles PM 2.5 and PM 10. Any concentration of PM 2.5 exceeding 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air is extremely dangerous: in English it is officially called "very unhealthy" (from 80 and above - simply "unhealthy").

Meanwhile, in the satellite image below, it is easy to see that in China, over densely populated areas, the concentration goes over 170 micrograms per cubic meter. At the same time, the pictures were taken in July 2020 - and in winter the concentration of microparticles in the air is much higher, because in the cold season it is tens of percent denser and much poorer in moisture. In denser air, it is easier for particles to "float" without falling to the ground, and moisture droplets in dry air bind them much less often. The picture is similar with PM 10.

Where does this lead? According to American researchers, such microparticles are one of the leading sources of heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths in the United States. Energy pollution there, according to scientific works on this topic, leads to the premature death of 52 thousand people a year - and the vast majority of these victims were from coal energy. In English, such people are referred to as deathprint - the "death trail" of energy.

Experts from the United States argue that even American coal-fired power plants equipped with efficient filters can lead to the death of ten thousand people per trillion kilowatt-hours of production.Globally - even in the era of coronavirus quarantine - coal produces about eight trillion kilowatt-hours a year. This means that if all coal-fired power plants filtered out emissions as well as American ones, then in the world they could cause 80 thousand premature deaths a year.

Under this highly optimistic scenario, coal power would kill one person in six and a half minutes. This figure is worth remembering - it will be useful to us further, as a basis for comparisons. True, in third world countries coal-fired thermal power plants have filters weaker than in the United States, and for this and other reasons, there are not ten thousand, but one hundred thousand deaths per trillion "coal" kilowatt-hours. That is, in fact, coal kills significantly more than one person per minute. The total number of premature deaths from its incineration is estimated at 800 thousand per year.

Probably, it would be worth saying that even those who experience the consequences of inhaling burnt particles of coal often and for a long time treat respiratory diseases, which, for example, in the UK costs 1.7 billion pounds a year.

In the United States, the situation is even worse: it costs $ 0.3 trillion to treat illnesses caused by TPP, while the total cost of all electricity consumed in the United States per year is less than $ 0.5 trillion. American industry experts are confident that even if coal energy did not have other negative aspects, the additional hundreds of billions of dollars that it forces to spend on medicine alone would be sufficient reason for the gradual displacement of coal.

Gas thermal power plants are much more humane. According to American power engineers, they can lead to the premature death of only four thousand people per trillion kilowatt-hours. Across the planet, natural gas generates on the order of four trillion kilowatt-hours - or 16 thousand cases of possible premature deaths a year. That's a little less than one in half an hour. Even less dangerous are hydroelectric power plants. In case of periodic accidents, they claim an average of 1400 lives per trillion kilowatt-hours of their production.

Against this background, nuclear power looks very safe. As we already wrote, the estimate of all premature deaths from accidents at nuclear power plants in their entire history is four thousand, less than 90 deaths per trillion kilowatt-hours.

Moreover, the last accident with a confirmed fatal outcome was back in the 1980s, since then such events have not happened. So it would be incorrect to say that “nuclear power generates two trillion kilowatt-hours a year, which means that this year it will cause the death of 180 people” (approximately one every two days). No, it won't: today's reactor types exclude events like Chernobyl. We wrote about why this is so in our earlier material. The real number of victims at nuclear power plants is now equal to zero - in two days, and in two months, and in two years.

Interestingly, when burning biofuels, the number of premature deaths is 24 thousand per trillion kilowatt-hours - this is better than the level of coal in the third world, but worse than the same coal in the first world.

In such a mode of zero deathprint as nuclear power, today only large solar power plants operate: there is nowhere to fall, so no one dies during their construction.

Against this background, nuclear energy looks so good that the question naturally arises: why is the global green community demanding its elimination? Suppose they don't care at all about the hundreds of thousands of potential annual heat victims. But they obviously cannot but worry about climate change. But thermal power plants also emit the bulk of the carbon dioxide that mankind produces. It is obvious from the figures that if it were not for the NPP, the situation would have been much worse. What makes the greens go against nuclear energy in such conditions?

The reason is simple: fear. Irrational, but very powerful, as we will show below.

The beginning of fear

A person is traditionally afraid of two things: that which is unfamiliar to him, and that with which he may often intersect, but does not understand.What seems familiar and understandable does not cause fear, even if it is truly deadly.

Researchers know that firewood and coal claim hundreds of thousands of lives a year. But people have been burning wood for millions of years, and they have become so commonplace that no one is afraid of them. Any summer resident calmly burns garbage on his site, any tourist sits calmly by the fire (sometimes from the leeward side). It is useless to explain that it is harmful: people will simply say "our ancestors burned it, and no one died."

No amount of scientific research can shake the credibility of what we think is familiar. Let's remember smoking: decades of stories about the dangers of nicotine could not make the population less smoking, but the introduction of large tobacco excise taxes in the last decades around the world could.

Scientists have found that the gas that burns in the kitchen greatly increases the likelihood of arthritis (by provoking the production of autoantibodies that "trigger" it in the lungs). But no one has ever seen protesters against gas stoves and demanding their replacement with electric ones. Moreover, those living in houses with electric stoves suffer from arthritis 40% less often. Gas is familiar: it has been with us since childhood. It looks straightforward - just another source of fire - and that's why it seems harmless.

X-ray radiation actively entered popular culture at the beginning of the 20th century - as an exotic idea of ​​some invisible rays that allow you to see a person from the inside. "Invisible rays" quickly got into literature and cinema: the "red ray" from Bulgakov's story forced the genes of animals to mutate and turned ordinary snakes into the most dangerous monsters trying to take Moscow.

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Western culture has not lagged behind: just look at the illustration from the poster of the 1920s below to understand the scale with which the invisible "X-rays" have become a common cinematic horror story. The splitting of the nuclei of atoms generates "deadly radiation", which turns people and animals into monsters or kills them.

It follows from this: society was prepared in advance for the fact that everything connected with nuclear fission would be dangerous - like in horror films. Therefore, it is not surprising that the first work of fiction about the accident at a nuclear reactor was published in 1941 - before the launch of the first such reactor. The second followed in 1942.

It is not surprising that people who grew up in Western mass culture very often reacted extremely tensely to the idea of ​​the imminent construction of a nuclear power plant. The first protests against the construction of nuclear power plants in the West were recorded already in 1958 - for a start in California. The first attack on a nuclear power plant using a grenade launcher was staged by the future Swiss parliamentarian years before Chernobyl.

It may seem that the reaction of the most nervous part of society did not have much of a chance of success. Fatal accidents at nuclear power plants are rare and the economic benefits are clear. Yes, their capacity is more difficult to maneuver, but coal-fired thermal power plants, due to the need to warm up the furnaces, do not "accelerate" and "slow down" quickly. In addition, in the price of an atomic kilowatt, the main part is the cost of a nuclear power plant, not its fuel, and in fact the cost of nuclear power plants in the 1960s was lower than that of thermal power plants. This means that their energy was also cheaper than that of coal-fired power plants. Is the victory of the new industry over coal predetermined?

So many American companies thought that, rushing into the nuclear power industry and creating a real boom there. In the 1960s, the States laid down a large number of nuclear reactors each year. Alas, the invested businessmen were wrong.

The mass protests were ineffective, so the protesters began to actively seek other ways to block the construction of the reactors. American law allowed local residents living in the area of ​​the nuclear power plant to file class actions against their construction, and it was suspended during the period of litigation.

However, almost all power plants in the world are created on borrowed money - and if in our time in the West the cost of a loan is extremely low, then half a century ago it was equal to the current Russian one, that is, it remained quite significant. This meant that every year of delay he was forced to pay more interest on the loan, without receiving money from the station itself, since it had not yet been put into operation.

Finally, we must not forget that the judges themselves are people, they also went to the cinema, where they showed films about horrors associated with invisible rays. Accordingly, some of them were also strongly opposed to the construction of a new type of power plant.

The decisive year for the United States was 1971: then one of the judges decided that the authorities must carry out a procedure for proving the environmental safety of each power plant - regardless of whether a class action lawsuit was filed against it from local residents or not. From that moment on, there was a kind of "presumption of guilt" in the States against every nuclear power plant that was built there.

The results were not long in coming. The Atomic Energy Commission stopped issuing new licenses for a year and a half, and when they began to issue them again, the rules were dramatically tightened. In 1964-1968, nuclear power plants commissioned in the United States cost $ 1000-1500 (at current prices) per kilowatt-hour, and the average reactor size was 800-1100 megawatts. Those nuclear power plants, whose construction began in 1967-1972, but was completed before 1978, already cost $ 1800-2500 per kilowatt of installed capacity. The rise in prices was 187%, or 23% per year.

In addition to the lengthy approval procedure, other problems began. Under the onslaught of public opinion, many design solutions in reactors were changed, and this process itself became noticeably slower. Businesses began to lose interest in such projects. And not without reason: for reactors, the construction of which began after the court decision of 1971, the cost until 1978 increased by another 50-200%.

But that was not all. In 1979, there was an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Those plants that were completed before it, in the 70s, have an average cost per kilowatt of power 2, 8 times lower than those that were completed after this accident. Why have prices skyrocketed? Because the average construction time for such nuclear power plants in the United States has increased by 2, 2 times.

The reaction to the incident seems disproportionate only if we forget that people already then, before the first atomic accident notable in the West, were under the serious influence of fear, which Hollywood and popular culture had firmly connected with the nuclear power plant even before the first of them began work. That is why one and a half thousand people were evacuated from the area around the Three Mile Island NPP by a simple decision of the local governor. Of course, they were all returned later, but the severity of the reaction itself is impressive.

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It seems that this is an excessive reaction: not a single person, even from the plant personnel, died in the accident, and no one received any noticeable damage to health. Nearby all over the United States there were coal stations, each of which claimed many lives a year without any accidents, but for some reason no one was ever evacuated from them, just as they are not evacuated to this day.

But the population of the United States, due to its defenselessness in front of mass culture, seemed completely different. According to opinion polls, more than 50% of Americans were dissatisfied with the actions of the authorities, and too, in their opinion, the calm reaction of the plant's designers and builders to the accident.

As a result, from 1978 to 2012, the United States did not issue any more licenses for the construction of nuclear power plants.

Why do we pay so much attention to the United States? First, it is the main nuclear energy power of both that time and today: in 2019, nuclear power plants there generated 809 billion kilowatt-hours, and in Russia - 208.7 billion. Second, the American scenario has been consistently repeated in many other states.

Let's take the second country in terms of nuclear generation - France.In 2019, it generated 338 billion kilowatt-hours at nuclear power plants, which gave 70.6% of all its electricity. After the incident in Fukushima, 57% of the French in the polls spoke out against the existence of nuclear energy in their country.

The then president of the republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, tried to defend nuclear energy based on rational arguments: they say, no one died in Fukushima, and people die en masse every year from thermal energy.

The outcome of his efforts could be predicted in advance. In 2012, there were elections - in which he lost to François Hollande, who went under the slogan of reducing the share of generation from nuclear power plants from 75% (then) to 50% in 2025. Of course, Sarkozy's defeat was not the result of his atomic policy - that was secondary in the eyes of voters against the background of other issues. But it was his defeat in the elections that determined the fact that Paris headed for the squeeze of its nuclear energy.

True, purely technical problems made such a plan difficult to implement: replacement facilities are difficult to build quickly. Nevertheless, France still plans to close 14 nuclear reactors and reduce the share of nuclear generation to 50%, albeit for a longer period.

The West's gradual loss of positions in nuclear energy

The problem is that in any large industry, scaling up means reducing costs, and scaling down means increasing costs. Until 1978, there was massive nuclear construction in the United States, and after that it practically disappeared. Even the 2012 permit allows only partially replacing old reactors that are out of service - no one is talking about maintaining the current share of nuclear power plants in the American energy sector. But since new reactors are not being built in large quantities, each of those that still have to be built will be much more expensive than before: much more expensive than in the 70s, not like in the 60s.

To what extent depends on the price of the borrowed capital. Western banks are reluctant to give large loans for nuclear projects: they are unpopular in local societies and are always at risk of being phased out for political reasons, due to green protests. Therefore, with unsubsidized loans for construction, nuclear energy in the United States, according to the calculations of the well-known financial firm Lazard, is more expensive than from coal, gas, wind or large solar power plants.

The International Energy Agency describes the situation as follows:

"In developed economies, nuclear energy has already begun to gradually disappear: nuclear power plants are being closed, new investments in them are small."

If nothing is done, the agency claims, in developed countries, the share of nuclear energy will fall by two-thirds by 2040.

And the point is not even in the numbers themselves, but in the fact that it will not be easy to start the construction of nuclear reactors anew. The states did not build them for so long that for decades (from the 1980s to 2012) their specialists in this field simply did not have experience of new construction in their country. Having no experience in construction inside the country, it is difficult to make money in foreign markets: the customer is more willing to pay the one who has behind him the construction of a nuclear power plant on time at home.

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But attempts to resume the construction of new nuclear power plants "from scratch" in the United States, just because of the loss of experience in their creation, sometimes end sadly. In 2012, they issued licenses for the construction of two reactors of 1, 1 gigawatt in South Carolina - this should have been the first construction of this kind in the United States in decades.

However, it soon turned out that it was impossible not to create such a complex object as a nuclear power plant for decades, and then suddenly start building it on time and according to plan. The American nuclear industry has simply lost this competence. Parts of the reactor did not have time to be produced on time. The delay was so long that the Westinghouse Electric Company, which carried out the construction, first postponed the deadline by two to three years.

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And in 2017, she suddenly realized that she was not “pulling out,” and filed for bankruptcy.She named the construction of two new reactors as its reason - the company estimated the total losses on them at $ 9 billion. As the local press summed up the fate of the project:

"South Carolina spent nine billion to dig a hole in the ground and then fill it up again."

So far, this is not the end of new reactor construction in the United States: two power units of the same type are being built in another part of the country. The experience of the Carolina failure seems to have been taken into account, the assembly of the reactor components was changed so as not to repeat the same mistakes. But the project was delayed there too - its cost reached $ 25 billion.

The builders admit that it would have been even higher if the state had not given guarantees for $ 12 billion on the loans for which the nuclear power plant is being built. Against this background, it is extremely difficult to imagine even replacing hundreds of American power reactors in operation. Building a couple of units in a dozen years, the country will inevitably face a reduction in their production.

Points of Atomic Growth: Asia and Russia?

Oddly enough, the same Westinghouse Electric Company was able to build four of its AP 1000 reactors - the same ones that could not be completed in South Carolina - already in China. The reason why something happened in China that did not work in the United States itself is in the active involvement of local contractors from the very early stage of work. Starting from the second reactor, even its vessel and steam generators were made in China, and for less critical components, there were many deliveries "from the spot" during the construction of the first reactor.

But for the first reactor, the vessel was made not in the USA, but in South Korea (Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction). And, again, using many Chinese components. South Korea, on the other hand, has not stopped building nuclear power plants all these years - and has not lost the necessary competencies.

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Over the past decades, the PRC has been constantly entering new complex industries with the help of Western technologies, at the same time, local companies really want to gain a foothold in the nuclear sector - as the American ones once wanted in the 60s.

Their enthusiasm is understandable. There is no judicial system allowing class action to interfere with the construction of a nuclear power plant. The election is unlikely to be won by a party promising to reduce the nuclear sector. And the CCP knows, of course, that thermal energy in the world kills hundreds of thousands of people a year - and a significant part of them die in China. And they can also estimate the huge scale of spending on the treatment of those who still did not die, but whose lungs and heart with blood vessels suffered from PM 2.5 microparticles.

Chinese nuclear players are not under the influence of fear, because there is no such fear in the information space of the Celestial Empire. Chernobyl and Fukushima are perceived there simply as accidents that happened due to specific miscalculations and certain external factors. In terms of the number of victims, they are simply compared with other types of energy, on which the question of "whether it is necessary to build a nuclear power plant" disappears by itself. As long as China is not under the influence of fear, this allows it to listen to reasonable arguments and counterarguments.

Russia is in a slightly different situation. On the one hand, in our mass culture the power of fear of atomic accidents is very high. Part of the population really believes that mutants exist in Chernobyl, not suspecting how unreliable films about it can be, and so on.

On the other hand, such people are still a minority: according to opinion polls, more than 75% of the Russian population has a positive attitude towards nuclear energy, the majority believe that its capacity should be actively increased. As a result, we are not seeing the same scale of green protests as in the West. This is one of the reasons why Rosatom can continue the normal systematic construction of new reactors within the country without losing skills and technologies.

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Due to this, the company continues to gain experience in the construction of nuclear power plants within the country, and the prices for the creation of new nuclear power plants remain very moderate, which allows it to win tenders in the surrounding world.It is constantly working on new NPP designs - for example, VVER-TOI, which surpasses previous designs in terms of capacity, and should be cheaper in terms of unit cost. The company's export portfolio exceeds $ 140 billion, which is comparable to the volume of Russian arms or grain exports.

This does not mean, however, that the industry has no other problems. The point is that the economy's need for new power plants can be significant only if this economy is actively growing. Since 2007, the cumulative growth of the Russian economy has been very small, so there is no rapid increase in electricity demand within the country. Today Rosatom is building only three nuclear reactors (and plans to build four more). But foreign orders amount to 36 reactors at different stages of construction.

The company is critically dependent on orders from abroad: if there are fewer of them, it will be limited to moderate volumes of domestic construction. One of its main customers is China, which plans, after gaining sufficient experience, to switch to building reactors on its own.

There are definitely other markets: North Africa, several other countries. But their capacity is noticeably lower, as is political as well as economic stability. As a result, Rosatom has to cope: the world is big, and the fear induced by mass culture is far from everywhere that can affect the development of the local energy sector. Finally, China's nuclear plans are so ambitious that local companies alone (although they are supposed to give up the bulk of the market) have not yet been able to cover all the needs of the Celestial Empire for new nuclear power plants.

The future: a promising energy sector that is not available to everyone

So, there are two oppositely directed tendencies in the world. On the one hand, in the United States, with its hundreds of reactors, it will clearly not be possible to fully compensate for the disposal of old ones with new ones. In France, the share of nuclear power plants is decreasing, in Germany - too, and in the latter they plan to abandon nuclear power plants completely. So far, only nine reactors out of 54 are operating in Japan (however, some of the idle ones can be restarted).

South Korea is not ready to close existing nuclear power plants and is even building two of the previously planned eight new reactors, but does not plan to complete the remaining six. Yes, the EU is talking about the fact that nuclear energy should be equated with SPP and WPP, but given the position of voters in Europe, the likelihood of this event is very small.

China plans to have up to 400 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050 - more than the world currently has, and 1.6 times more than the total capacity of Russian energy. These plans are quite realistic, because coal needs to be replaced with something, and for this, nuclear power plants look - in the conditions of moderate Chinese prices for them - a simpler solution than alternative ones. Cinema and popular culture here do not influence the decision of the state, therefore, most likely, everything will be according to plans.

True, it should be noted that such a scale of nuclear power will require China to close its nuclear cycle - and fast nuclear reactors. This is a fundamentally different technological line, which is presented in Russia by BN-800, but for the PRC it is still a novelty.

So, the atom has pretty good prospects: countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, France, Finland, Czech Republic, Estonia are planning to build nuclear reactors. It is clear that the easiest way to achieve a noticeable reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for states with moderate incomes is by combining the construction of new solar and wind power plants with nuclear ones. The former give too variable output, and developing countries often do not have money for storage. Balancing the fluctuations of insolation and wind at the expense of nuclear power plants operating 24 hours is a fairly obvious solution, and many will follow this path.

Thus, the future of the atom looks more optimistic than the past or the present.If mass culture had not arranged a real obstruction to the atom - even before Three Mile Island - by multiplying the cost of new nuclear power plants, then the speed of their construction in the world could be the same as in the 1960s. In this scenario, all major economies would already have a French share of nuclear generation - 70-75% each. And in the world several hundred thousand fewer people would die in a year.

Finally, such a problem as global warming would simply not appear in the media - because if the share of nuclear generation in the world was at least 50%, the level of CO2 in the air could only fall, not rise. Yes, you read everything correctly. The replacement of coal plants with nuclear ones was technologically and economically quite realistic even in the last century - if, of course, it were not an epidemic of fear. It is clear that when the growth of carbon dioxide concentration stopped in the last century, warming simply did not reach a truly significant scale.

But in practice, such an epidemic of fear has been going on since the very beginning of the atomic era, while coal has not been replaced by the atom, on the contrary. And this means that the total cost of anti-nuclear fear is measured in millions of lives - and a history of global warming that will affect our world, for better or for worse, for centuries.

Let's summarize. Due to rather irrational processes that do not have objective scientific and technical reasons, the countries of the West rushed to conclusions and noticeably "froze" the development of nuclear energy. As a result, as we showed above with the specific example of South Carolina, the players in their nuclear industry began to lose technologies that could ultimately determine the carbon-free energy of the future. The situation looks especially difficult against the background of the warming fighters' conclusions that it will not be possible to contain CO2 emissions without nuclear power.

At the same time, it is difficult to name the accidents at nuclear power plants alone as the reason for the loss of Western technological leadership in the atomic sphere. For example, the market for the construction of new such plants five years after Fukushima returned to the level of 2010, but not for American and French players. Cause? Insufficient investment in nuclear technology is an investment that in Western countries fell below the level of "competence reproduction" long before the Fukushima accident.

At the same time, China has made tremendous efforts to catch up with former technology leaders. Among the advantages of the new Asian players are the shorter construction time of the stations and, accordingly, their lower cost.

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Russia, meanwhile, did not stop the development of the nuclear industry. More powerful and less expensive projects such as VVER-TOI are emerging on the basis of existing slow-neutron reactors (VVER). Along the way, the so-called atomic technologies of the fourth generation are being created - breeder reactors on fast neutrons (BN-800 and promising draft designs), they are developing molten salt reactors and even a number of thermonuclear technologies within the framework of the ITER project.

As a result, Rosatom is now the leader in the construction of nuclear power plants abroad. Western business is also not opposed to participating in such construction (which is shown by the example of its work in the PRC). But the trouble is that underinvestment in technology does not allow him to win new tenders in China.

It is difficult to say how long Russia's dominance in the world nuclear power plant construction market will last. As long as its technology is among the most recent, the situation is unlikely to change. But here it is important not to freeze in place and continue to improve - otherwise the race with Asian players may end sadly.

We are grateful to the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom for help in creating the material.

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