However, given the changed security climate after the 9/11 terrorists attacks on the USA, and increased concerns about the risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons material, GNEP seems subsequently to have been sidelined. The GNEP programme did not prosper under President Obama. Instead there has been an expansion of more conventional commercial approaches. For example, France, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea are seeking to export their nuclear technology around the world.
There is certainly no shortage of promotion of nuclear expansion, with some exponents clearly still projecting confident views based on allegedly new technologies like SMRs. In direct opposition, renewable energy lobbyist argue that nuclear is a distraction which cannot help much to limit climate change, whereas, despite claims to the contrary, renewables can: http://thebulletin.org/commentary/nuclear-distraction
With renewables now supplying around 25% of global electricity and expanding fast, with costs falling rapidly, while nuclear seems stuck at 11%, with costs rising, their case is strong. Nuclear power has certainly not lived up to the perhaps unrealistic expectations raised in the early days, with for example, US Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss, in a 1954 address to science writers, claiming that ‘it is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter’: www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1613/ML16131A120.pdf He was not specific about whether that was via fission of fusion, but it is clear that, either way, he has been proven wrong.
In terms of technology, the substantial and long running efforts of many highly qualified and motivated people notwithstanding, while there have been some notable successes and reactor systems which have gone on to provide many years of relatively reliable service, there have also been some major disasters with commercial projects and repeated technological failures as new ideas were explored. One result has been a loss of faith in nuclear technology amongst increasing numbers of people. As might be expected, that includes most environmentalists.
Their objections often go beyond just concerns about environmental impacts and safety, important though they are: the basic technological trajectory is seen as flawed, with nuclear power being viewed as an unreliable way to respond to climate change. The environmentalist criticism also extends to the more specific technological development issues covered in this text. For example, leading UK environmentalist, Jonathon Porritt, has commented that ‘the consistent history of innovation in the nuclear industry is one of periodic spasms of enthusiasm for putative breakthrough technologies, leading to the commitment of untold billions of investment dollars, followed by a slow, unfolding story of disappointment caused by intractable design and cost issues. Purely from an innovation perspective, it’s hard to imagine a sorrier, costlier and more self-indulgent story of serial failure.’ http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/-2015-.html
That may be put a little aggressively, but a widely shared view is that the nuclear lobby is forever offering ‘jam tomorrow, but never today’, as the late Lord (Walter) Marshall, one- time head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, once wryly admitted in the context of hoped-for cost reductions, adding: ‘The British Public have never had the cheap electricity that we have always promised from nuclear power’: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1987-10-30a.585.1 That seems to have been a general pattern: the next reactor system will be better, cheaper, safer! After 70 years or so of development, regular assertions like that begin to ring a little hollow. It remains to be seen whether the next iteration will do any better. On past performance, it is hard to be optimistic.
Some countries will continue to press ahead with, and rely on, nuclear power, as a minority (30 countries out of the 196 global total) do at present, but it is likely that most will not want to go down this route and more that have already done so will back off. Some would see that as tragedy, given the huge effort that has been put into nuclear power development over the years. It would certainly be painful to admit failure. But there would be some useful spin off, both technologically (there is some expertise overlap with other energy options) and policy-wise. For example, the long tortuous history of nuclear power may provide a useful warning for those of us that hope and believe that renewables can do much better. Technological innovation is not easy and we can expect similar up and downs, though hopefully with fewer major disasters and more technical and economic success. There is a way to go, but, along with energy saving, that does seem likely to be a more productive route forward.