Can nuclear get a Messmer moment in 2022?

We are at the moment looking at a future with nuclear power growing in the western countries for the first time in decades. With growth in the sector mainly being designated to the East so far, this is not something to scoff at. On Wednesday 22 December we will probably get a decision if nuclear power will be included in the green taxonomy. This will open up the possibility for cheaper financing and make it much easier for many funds to invest in the sector. The coming week is therefore a very exciting one.

This comes at a time where people in Europe have to deal with high energy prices, and an uncertainty about availability of energy in the coming months. As with almost everything, we have experienced similar situations before.

Looking to history

Certain things seem to repeat from time to time. In the 70s we had an energy crisis that showed the world how dependent we were on oil for our energy needs to keep society running.

«The oil crisis arose in the western countries in the winter of 1973–1974. The price of petroleum increased when production was reduced, which led to austerity measures and restrictions on, among other things, driving. The background to the crisis was the war between Israel and Egypt/Syria, called the Yom Kippur War.

The member countries of OPEC, decided to raise crude oil prices by 70 percent, from $3 to $5.11 per barrel, and to cut production by five percent for each of the following months until Israel withdrew from the occupied territories.

​​On January 1, 1974, OPEC raised prices to $ 11.65 a barrel».

(Translated and abbreviated from the Great Norwegian Encyclopedia).

We also had a drop in oil production in the wake of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, known as the 1979 Oil Shock, or Second Oil Crisis that pushed the price of oil even higher.

You have probably seen pictures of the 70s with lines at the gas stations, and similar situations. In Norway there was a ban on driving cars during the weekend for a time. (One of the most famous pictures from 1973 was of the Norwegian King Olav V, taking the tram together with the regular citizens to go skiing. It was mainly a publicity stunt, but this helped solidify his reputation as “The King of the People”).

The oil crisis led to many trying to find solutions to be less dependent on oil. Necessity is the mother of invention. Just as people managed during World War II with rationing, with most goods in short supply, many people came up with ingenious solutions. As an example we had people driving cars that ran on coal, or even wood.

You also had solutions being made on the national level. Many of the 56 nuclear reactors in France were built following the 1973 oil crisis. In March 1974, the French Prime Minister Pierre Messmer announced what later became known as the “Messmer Plan”. This was a huge program aimed at generating all of France’s electricity from nuclear power. (At the time of the oil crisis France was dependent on a lot of foreign oil for their energy needs). France looked to nuclear power as a solution to this dependency.

At the moment we look to be just as dependent on oil and gas as we were in the 70s. The last decade we have scaled up intermittent renewables, and made them a bigger part of the energy mix, and at the same time underinvested in the fossil sector. The underinvestment in fossil fuels has led to lower supply available, and higher prices.

We’ve already had heads of state like Macron and Johnson coming with announcements about renewed investments in nuclear power in France and the UK respectively. Several other western countries have done the same. With the possibility of a colder winter than usual, and supply lines stretched already, we might get more countries on board with nuclear power. One winter similar to 1973 and we might get another, if not a Messmer moment, maybe a reversal of the opposition to nuclear power from other countries.

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