Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nuclear Power Is Financially Risky

The decision to decommission most, perhaps all, of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, along with the reports that the evacuation of the city may be expanded and could be continued for months, almost certainly makes that nuclear power station a money-losing proposition for Japan over its lifetime. The real estate value of a city for a period of three months is a larger sum of money than we are used to calculating in connection with any business (though I am sure that someone will find a way to quantify this at the appropriate time), and this is only one component of the loss that the city of Fukushima faces currently. That is not to say that the evacuation is a mistake. Far from it — the costs of medical care, pain and suffering, and lost productivity that people would experience as the result of illnesses caused by remaining in a city with areas of radioactive fallout would be greater, and this is why there is some talk in Japan about expanding the evacuation zone.

The few nuclear power advocates who continue to say that the Fukushima disaster shows that nuclear power is not risky do not appear to be looking at the financial risks. When you have a technology that is not financially viable without subsidies in the first place, then add the possibility of complete failure that may occur at random at any point along the way, it presents the picture of a venture that can only be described as risky in the financial sense. Another risk I must continue to mention is the possibility of shutting down, perhaps even before a new reactor is able to start up, because of a future shortage of uranium. The remote chance of catastrophic damage adds an exclamation point to the risk involved. This balancing of the potential upside and downside risks is a view that potential investors must consider.

After the Three Mile Island disaster, the operator of that power station could not continue as a separate company. There is talk now that the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi power station may be bankrupted by the failure of that installation. What will become of that company? That is just the kind of uncertainty that business executives prefer to avoid — their own jobs and careers, after all, are at stake. After the failure at Fukushima Daiichi, it will he harder than before to persuade business executives to invest in the risks of nuclear power.