Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Paris Fails to Revive the Nuclear Dream

Climate
Paris Fails to Revive the Nuclear Dream

In Paris, in early December, the advocates of nuclear power made yet another appeal to world leaders to adopt their technology as central to saving the planet from dangerous climate change.

Yet analysis of the plans of 195 governments that signed up to the Paris agreement, each with their own individual schemes on how to reduce national carbon emissions, show that nearly all of them exclude nuclear power.

Reactor at Qinshan: Many experts doubt that China can go far to meeting its needs with nuclear power. Photo credit: Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

Only a few big players—China, Russia, India, South Korea and the United Kingdom—still want an extensive program of new–build reactors.

To try to understand why this is so the U.S.-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asked eight experts in the field to look at the future of nuclear power in the context of climate change.

One believed that large-scale new-build nuclear power “could and should” be used to combat climate change and another thought nuclear could play a role, although a small one. The rest thought new nuclear stations were too expensive, too slow to construct and had too many inherent disadvantages to compete with renewables.

Industry in Distress

Amory Lovins, co-founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, produced a devastating analysis saying that the slow-motion decline of the nuclear industry was simply down to the lack of a business case.

The average nuclear reactor, he wrote, was now 29 years old and the percentage of global electricity generated continued to fall from a peak of 17.6 percent in 1996 to 10.8 percent in 2014. “Financial distress stalks the industry,” wrote Lovins.

Lovins says nuclear power now costs several times more than wind or solar energy and is so far behind in cost and building time that it could never catch up.

The full details of what he and other experts said are on the Bulletin’s site, with some of their comments below.

Professor Jeff Terry, of the physics department at Illinois Institute of Technology, was the greatest enthusiast for new nuclear build: "Nuclear energy is a reliable, low carbon dioxide source of electricity that can and should be used to combat climate change."

“China, India, Russia and South Korea are all building nuclear plants both at home and in other countries. Therefore, nuclear energy will continue to play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change for the next 80 years," Terry said.

Too Slow

“Why are these countries turning to nuclear energy? Mainly due to the versatility and stability of nuclear generation. Nuclear power has the highest capacity factor of any low carbon dioxide-emitting power source.”

Another potential enthusiast was Seth Grae, president and CEO of the Lightbridge Corporation, who believes light water nuclear reactors “must increase globally” if the world is to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.

However, new technologies that could have a major impact on decarbonizing global electricity generation, including advances such as grid-level electricity storage, more efficient wind turbines and new types of nuclear reactors, are not being developed fast enough, he argues.

"Unfortunately, these technologies are not economically competitive enough for utilities to deploy at a large enough scale to prevent catastrophic climate change,” Grae writes. ”Sufficient improvement in economic competitiveness might not be achieved in time to prevent the worst effects of climate change.”

M.V. Ramana, of the Nuclear Futures Laboratory and the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, was dismissive. “There are still some who hope that nuclear power will magically undergo a massive expansion within a relatively short period of time."

”The evidence so far suggests that this is a false hope, one that is best abandoned if we are to deal with climate change with the seriousness the problem demands.”

Peter Bradford, adjunct professor at Vermont Law School and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, agreed: “Climate change, so urgent and so seemingly intractable, has become the last refuge of nuclear charlatans throughout the Western world.”

He said James Hansen, perhaps the most visible of the climate scientists who advocate heavy reliance on breeder or other innovative reactor designs, did so without paying any attention to their track record of long and costly failure.

Hui Zhang, physicist and senior research associate at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said China had a big program to build nuclear power stations. But they currently generated only 1 percent of the nation’s huge electricity needs and even if the target of 110 power reactors by 2030 were achieved, they would produce only 5 percent.

“While a fleet of nuclear reactors with 130 GWe by 2030 would represent a substantial expansion (more than four times China’s current capacity of 30 GWe and more than the current U.S. capacity of about 100 GWe), it would account for only 5 percent of total energy use in the country and would constitute just one quarter of the non-fossil energy needed," Zhang said.

“In practice, the total energy use will likely be higher than the planned cap, so the share of nuclear power in the overall energy mix would be even less.

“Eventually, nuclear power is important if China is to address concerns about air pollution and climate change, but it is only one piece of a huge puzzle.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

9 Gifts President Obama Gave Big Oil in 2015

‘Nuclear Gypsies’ Risk Their Lives to Clean Up Fukushima

It Wasn’t Only Exxon That Knew About Global Warming Since the 1970s

Washington Post Writer Finally Discloses He’s a Shill for Fossil Fuel Industry

An Exxon oil refinery is seen at night. Jim Sugar / Getty Images

Citigroup will strive to reach net-zero greenhouse gas pollution across its lending portfolio by 2050 and in its own operations by 2030, the investment group announced Monday.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Arctic fox's coat changes from the mixed gold and black of summer to a mostly pure white fur in winter. Dennis Fast / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

By Jacob Job

Maybe you've seen a video clip of a fluffy white fox moving carefully through a frozen landscape. Suddenly it leaps into the air and dive-bombs straight down into the snow. If so, you've witnessed the unusual hunting skills of an Arctic fox.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Young protesters participate in the Global Strike For Future march to raise climate change awareness in September 2019 in Brussels, Belgium. Thierry Monasse / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

An international survey conducted by the University of Cambridge and YouGov ahead of this November's COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and published on Monday, found overwhelming support around the world for governments taking more robust action to protect the environment amid the worsening climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A boy plays basketball in front of an oil well covered with large colorful flowers and located next to Beverly Hills High School. Wells like this have been hidden throughout Los Angeles. Faces of Fracking / Flickr

While the hazards of fracking to human health are well-documented, first-of-its-kind research from Environmental Health News shows the actual levels of biomarkers for fracking chemicals in the bodies of children living near fracking wells far higher than in the general population.

Read More Show Less
The Sierra Nevada mountains are among the ranges most at-risk for early snowpack melt. CampPhoto / Getty Images

As the planet warms, mountain snowpack is increasingly melting. But "global warming isn't affecting everywhere the same," Climate Scientist Amato Evan told the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

Read More Show Less