The Financial Review showed impeccable timing with an op-ed piece this morning by a lawyer, Mallesons Stephen Jaques’ Annabel Griffin, which  started: “Many countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas are experiencing a revival of nuclear new-build projects, a trend referred to as the nuclear renaissance.”

Not it seems Germany and Switzerland, which will close their existing reactors over the next 11-23 years, or Italy, which earlier in the years shelved its nuclear plans.

The AFR piece talked about nuclear new forms and models of nuclear reactors producing power. Not in the most important economy in Europe, or in the continent’s financial capital.

None of the Australian media reports this morning mentioned what has been happening elsewhere following the Fukushima crisis, which continues, with the plant’s owner Tokyo Electric Power Co confessing on Sunday night that it won’t be able to bring the crippled power station under control by the end of this year, as it has been saying since the March 11 quake and tsunami damaged it.

Of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors, nine are in operation at the moment and eight will be be scrapped in phases over the next decade (One of these will be retained for emergency use in times of power shortages). Of the remaining eight reactors, one has not been in use for two years due to problems. The seven others were all built before 1980 and their operations were suspended for safety checks after the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The Swiss government said last week that it would phase out nuclear power by 2034.

That will mean three new nuclear power stations that were planned over the next two decades, now won’t be built.

The decision will also require the close of five nuclear power stations that currently supply 40% of the country’s power. That will be made up by retaining hydro power currently exported into western Europe as so-called green energy.

Last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel reversed the decision by the former government led by Gerhardt Schroeder to close all the nuclear plants by about 2021. She cited disruption to power supplies when she announced plans to extend operations by 12 years to 2034 before permanently shutting them down.

Germany took the decision despite the International Energy Association warning last week that such a move would add 25 million tonnes a year to the country’s carbon emissions.

Japan has already revealed it is dropping its 2010 plan to have halve its power generated by nuclear power by 2030.

Italy has shelved plants for four nuclear power plants by 2030 and two power stations in Texas have been abandoned by a private power company in the US.

Late yesterday Standard & Poor’s cut its ratings on Tokyo Electric Power Co debt to junk (“speculative”).

The rating group slashed Tepco’s secured bonds by two notches from BBB to BB-plus and the utility’s long-term corporate credit rating was dropped five notches to B-plus.

S&P said that even with the government having decided on a framework for helping Tepco pay compensation to victims of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, it had cut the ratings because of “uncertainty over the timeliness of any extraordinary government support” for the firm.

That is a huge blow and comes after Fitch Ratings changed its outlook on Japan’s credit rating to negative, because of the fear that the Fukushima crisis would prove to be a bigger threat to the economy and the country’s finances than any one was now saying.

Japan’s nuclear plants currently supply about 30% of the country’s electricity, and the government had planned to raise that to 50%.

Up to two thirds of the current 54 reactors will be offline or shut for inspection in the next couple of months.

Peter Fray

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