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i29

Adoption of innovative technology

History of nuclear power

From the time the first nuclear power stations came online in the 1950s the world nuclear capacity grew exponentially during 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s and 1990s the capacity started leveling off and remained about constant during the last decade. At present more nuclear power plants are reaching the end of their operational lifetime than new ones come online. Without new nuclear build the current world nuclear fleet would be closed down by the year 2050-2060.

The graph of the world nuclear capacity over time (Figure 29-1) fits remarkably well a smooth S-curve, known in mathematics as the logistic function (Figure 29-2). The logistic curve is typical for the adoption of innovations among organisations and social systems and is therefore also known as the adoption curve or diffusion curve. First the phase of early adopters of the innovation and slow growth of the number of adopters, than an adoption phase with exponential growth and finally a phase in which a level of maximum adoption of the innovation is reached. Curves similar to the nuclear capacity versus time curve exist, for example, with regard to the diffusion of the steam engine into the economic system in the 19th century and of the internal combustion engines and the gas turbines in the 20th century. The adoption curve is also common with the introduction of new technologies for the consumer, for example the color tv, cellphone, computer and internet,

Most new technologies follow a similar maturity lifecycle: from early development to maturity and implementation, to obsolescence and phase-out.

Maturity and obslescence of nuclear power

From the constant level of the world nuclear capacity during the past decade one may conclude that nuclear technology has reached the phase of maturity. This observation seems to be in conflict with the fact that the costs of nuclear power plants are still escalating and are hardly controllable. Likely the chronic cost escalation of nuclear projects has other causes than technical immaturity: the tremendous complexity of the nuclear energy system and the fact that nuclear power never has been, and never will be, independent of massive state support, directly as visible financial streams and indirectly via disguised channels.

In view of the foreseeable decline of the world nuclear capacity during the next decades, the current nuclear technology is entering obsolescence. A gradual phase-out of the current nuclear power technology seems inevitable. This observation is sustained by the declining availability of high-quality uranium resources, on which the viability of current nuclear power plants is based [more i28, i38].

Historic evidence concerning the diffusion of new technologies in social systems, following the adoption curve, shows that large-scale adoption of a new technology occurs only when the new technology offers possibilities existing technologies did not. A technology becomes obsolete when other technologies emerge which are better suited to perform the same task.

An expansion of the nuclear capacity on top of the existing adoption level of nuclear power would imply the availability of a new technology so innovative that it would initiate a vigorous adoption process, not only able to replace the adopters of the existing nuclear technology, but also able to reach a new extra group of adopters. Such a development would be thinkable only by the introduction of an innovative nuclear technology, so powerful that it could oust other energy technologies. Even to keep the world nuclear capacity at the current level the introduction of an innovative technology would be needed, to replace the currently operating power plants, which are of obsolete technology.

Likely the nuclear industry, off course aware of the adoption curve, has the breeder cycle and probably also partitioning and transmutation as energy source in mind [more I32, I33 and I34]. However, these 'revolutionary new' nuclear technologies are not so innovative as the nuclear industry wants the public to believe and will remain feasible only in cyberspace. The Second Law of thermodynamics is relentless [more i39 and i43].

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worldnuclearcapacitys

Figure 29-1. World nuclear operating capacity.

In May 2012 the world nuclear capacity amounted to 370 GWe.

adoptioncurve

Figure 29-2. Adoption curve of innovative technologies.

This logistic curve represents the cumulative number of adopters of an innovative technology as presented in Figure 29-3.

innovationadoptcycle

Figure 29-3. Innovation adoption lifecycle.

According to a generally accepted theory on the diffusion of new, innovative technologies or ideas in social systems, individuals can be classified into five groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. In regard to nuclear power, the first two groups may be found in the USA, UK and former Sovietunion; laggards may be found for example in China.