Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

The climate case for nuclear power

0 8

Early environmental movements saw nuclear power as villain number one. Disasters a quarter of a century apart at Chernobyl and Fukushima stoked the fears of successive generations. Many of today’s climate campaigners remain understandably hostile to nuclear. Yet as leaders at COP26 struggle to agree on carbon reductions that will come anywhere near restraining the global temperature rise to 1.5C, it is becoming clear that nuclear generation needs to be part of the panoply of solutions, even if on a transitional basis.

Few would question that renewable sources such as wind and solar — which have made huge strides — must be the mainstay of future electricity generation. The drawback remains their intermittent nature, and the lack of large-scale means to store electricity. Storage technologies seem unlikely to provide a big enough solution, fast enough. Nuclear power is the only carbon-free source that can deliver round-the-clock power, on demand, almost anywhere.

The world needs not only to replace the fossil fuel sources, moreover, which still generate nearly two-thirds of global power. Electric power must also be dramatically expanded to replace the oil, coal, and gas burnt by vehicles, homes and industry. At the same time many of the nuclear plants that supply 10 per cent of world electricity are getting old.

For renewables to take all of the strain would be a daunting challenge. Consider a scenario where sales of internal combustion engine cars end by 2035 and global electricity is decarbonised by 2040. The International Energy Agency suggests the world would need to ramp up building solar and wind plants so that, by 2030, it was adding four times as much capacity annually as in the record-breaking year of 2020.

Some sectors, less suited to electrification, will require alternative fuels, such as hydrogen, or sources of heat. Nuclear is potentially good for producing both.

The arguments against nuclear are powerful and resonant. It is expensive and complex to build; projects frequently overrun on costs and duration. It produces deadly waste. When things go wrong, the effects can be devastating. The nuclear industry and its proponents are prone to dismiss such concerns too blithely.

Climate Capital

Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Explore the FT’s coverage here.

Are you curious about the FT’s environmental sustainability commitments? Find out more about our science-based targets here

Yet the few tragic accidents were caused by a combination of poor training, design flaws and inadequate understanding of risks. Many scientists and academics agree modern designs, safety features and training are superior. Technology has advanced, too, on waste storage. Finland is setting a welcome benchmark for dealing with high level nuclear waste with the construction of a deep underground site set to become the world’s first repository for spent nuclear fuel.

Co-investment by the state or using, say, regulated asset base models can reduce financing costs to the point where nuclear is competitive over its lifespan with other sources. Small modular reactors — being studied by the UK, Estonia, Czech Republic, the Netherlands and others — offer the prospect of being built more cheaply and quickly, but producing copious power. Communities may balk at having such plants in their backyard. But they could potentially be built on sites of existing reactors, or — as the US is examining — retrofitted in formerly coal-fired plants, and use existing transmission infrastructure.

Governments, regulators and the industry face an uphill struggle in winning confidence in nuclear. Yet averting climate catastrophe is the defining challenge of this century. All means of achieving it have drawbacks, risks and trade-offs. Nuclear power has, perhaps, more than most. But these are not so great as to bar it from playing a role.

Energy is the world’s indispensable business and Energy Source is its newsletter. Every Tuesday and Thursday, direct to your inbox, Energy Source brings you essential news, forward-thinking analysis and insider intelligence. /a>.

As part of our coverage of COP26 we want to hear from you. Do you think carbon pricing is the key to tackling climate change? Tell us via a short survey. We will share some of the most interesting and thought provoking answers in our newsletters or an upcoming story. 

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.