What can we learn from French Nuclear Energy about the shutdown of Diablo Canyon?

My research group is in the process right now of wrapping up our project; we’re interpreting our results and writing up our paper.  To strengthen out research with lateral and vertical comparisons, we found research articles related to nuclear energy grounded in a different situated context.  I chose to read Technical Efficiency of French Nuclear Power Plants by Barros and Liang (2014).  This article is from four years ago, meaning new research and policies have naturally developed since it’s publication, but this article is still largely relevant.  I agree with the authors that France is an interesting area to study nuclear power plants, because of their heavy reliance on this energy source. France is an interesting area to study in terms of nuclear energy because it has invested more in nuclear than any other European nation.

Barros and Liang (2014) claim little research on nuclear energy has been done.  I’m don’t believe this currently holds true, but what caught my attention is that they felt there was a gap in scientific literature about the efficiency of nuclear energy.  They said there was more discussion on the desirability of nuclear energy in comparison to alternative energy sources. This relates to the results of our study on Diablo Canyon, because many of the key organizations at play have been comparing Diablo Canyon to renewable energy, but we have found few discussion on the technical efficiency of the power plant. This is also important to consider when deciding whether or not to shut down a power plant early.  Should residents in Diablo Canyon be focusing more on efficiency? Economics and safety seem more of a concern to people involved in the shutdown.

Now to get back to the research done in France.  The two big energy companies in France are EDF and AREVA, and this study focuses on the efficiency of nuclear energy owned by EDF-Electricity.  EDF has the lowest CO2 emissions in Europe, and emits about 8 times less then the average emissions in Europe.  France is also the world’s largest exporter of energy and one of the most cost effective energy producers.  If they manage to produce so much energy on such a low budget with nuclear energy, what does that mean about the cost concerns in Diablo Canyon about continuing operation of Diablo Canyon?  Are the actors involved wrongly concerned or is our infrastructure not set up like Frances to allow us to be heavily reliant on nuclear energy?  France is investing in 4th generation reactors and thermonuclear reactors that will be even more cost effective, safer, and continue to produce cleaner energy.  If the investment in France for nuclear energy has been so successful, than why in other regions are people so skeptical of nuclear energy and discontinuing plants?  Based on my groups research, I’m guessing a lot of this still has to do with risk.  Risk can mean a lot of things, so this is a vague statement, but the only answer I can provide as of now.

This study refers to efficiency in terms of distribution scale/effectiveness.  They measured efficiency from 2004 to 2008.  One of there findings was that privately owned power plants tend to be more efficient then publicly owned ones.  PG&E is a private company, which furthers my questioning of the risk perceptions of PG&E, California State, and the press about continuing the use of the Diablo Canyon plant.  This study found no clear conclusions based on plant size, location or emission levels, because their results varied dramatically.  They concluded that efficiency is more affected by managerial practives and “rigidity of the industry structure.”  At the end of this paper, they provided a call to action for responsible, proactive managerial procedures and that  pollution should be constantly monitored.  They found that this is especially important since the Fukushima accident sparked distrust in nuclear energy, which has driven a lot of reduction in Nuclear energy use world wide.  For instance, Germany announced that they would close down all their nation’s nuclear power plants by 2022.  I think this call to action has implications worldwide, and in the United States.  In order to prevent a continuing decline in nuclear energy which results in resorting back to fossil fuels, individual plants need to make sure they are setting good examples.

Source:

Andriamasy, L., Barros, C., & Liang, Q. (2014). Technical efficiency of French nuclear energy plants. Applied Economics, 46(18), 2119-2126.

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