Is nuclear power the best solution to climate change? The UK, like China, the US and Canada, is attracted to nuclear power. But high costs and slow delivery means many energy experts remain unconvinced. A debate in the House of Commons le by a group of MPs known as the “atomic kittens”, suggested nuclear energy can be a panacea for all ills – including a solution for the climate crisis and the gas crunch. The facts suggest otherwise. Traditional, big nuclear projects look likely to provide only a sliver of the world’s electricity in the future. They are hugely expensive to build, their construction runs over time, and they are frequently struck by technological issues. Moreover, they need to be built close to the sea or a large river for cooling reasons, highlighted Paul Dorfman from the University of Sussex. France has already had to curtail nuclear power output in periods of heatwaves and drought, which are only set to get worse as climate change takes hold. Greater storm surges and eroding coastlines also don’t make the prospect of building by the sea any easier. “The latest economic estimates available for SMRs are still quite expensive relative to other ‘clean’ energy alternatives, and it would be pure speculation to assume that will change dramatically until the concept has been more proven,” said Mike Hogan from the not-for-profit Regulatory Assistance Project. If we take the UK as an example, Hinkley Point C has been delayed and will now not come online until summer 2026 at the earliest. Sizewell C, if built, would not produce electricity until the 2030s. SMRs could be up and running as soon as 2028, claimed Crosbie, but even Rolls Royce says it wouldn’t have a SMR online until around 2031. Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, summed up the general mood of those less enthused by nuclear than Crosbie and her fans: “If successive governments had given even half the love and attention they afford to nuclear power to scaling up home insulation, energy efficiency and smart storage technologies, it’s likely we wouldn’t be facing current challenges around energy and household bills, and we would have done a lot more good for the climate and nature.” If nuclear is to play a role in the climate crisis, the industry – big and small – will have to do a much better job of delivering what it claims it can, on time and at a competitive cost.
New Statesman 21st Jan 2022 read more »
Just how green is nuclear power? Nuclear power is certainly very clean in terms of carbon emissions, but what about the radioactive waste produced as a byproduct? It’s not as much of a problem as you might think. In 2019, official estimates of the liabilities attached to cleaning up 17 of Britain’s oldest nuclear sites put the cost at £124bn over the next 120 years, of which £97bn applies to Sellafield alone. But there’s a good deal of uncertainty around decommissioning and waste figures. For example, estimates of the decommissioning costs for the UK’s non-Sellafield first-generation sites rose from £12bn in 2005 to £30bn by 2019. However, Tim Stone, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, argues that when it comes to this issue the past is not a good guide to the future. Everything could all become much cheaper if we get better at it. New reactors are designed with dismantling in mind, argues Jonathan Ford in the Financial Times, and “their longer lives (they are built to last for 60-80 years) mean their decommissioning costs should easily be covered out of operating revenue”.
Moneyweek 22nd Jan 2022 read more »