What are the reasons for pursuing a nuclear renaissance? This article explores some of the lessons learned from France and considers the costs and benefits of a nuclear renaissance. In addition, we consider how atomic power can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and what impact nuclear energy might have on national security.
Lessons from France
In the fall of 2003, France held its first national energy debate. A poll of French citizens showed that 70% felt poorly informed about energy issues, but most believed that environmental protection was their most important goal in the field. Additionally, 57% of respondents attributed climate change to coal-burning and nuclear power. This debate was held to help define the country’s energy mix in the next 30 years and prepare for the transition to sustainable development on a global and European scale.
Although nuclear power can combat climate change, its high cost and unreliable performance are reasons why it’s not a good option for tackling climate-related issues. Unlike renewable energy, nuclear power is not a good investment for the long term. Nuclear power is in steep decline worldwide. With the rising costs and risks associated with nuclear power, it is unlikely that the French government will be able to achieve its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.
Costs of nuclear power
The economics of nuclear power is a considerable concern when considering whether to build new plants or switch to other renewable energy sources. Nuclear power plants typically cost between $10 billion and $20 billion to build and operate. The cost of these plants is considerably higher than other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. In addition, the prices do not include the expense of ultimate waste disposal, which is currently unknown as no approved method exists in the U.S.
Moreover, nuclear electricity production relies on heavy fossil fuel infrastructure. Nuclear power is heavily carbon-dependent, including mining and processing uranium and shipping components. A reactor can continue to produce energy for decades, displacing up to 50 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually. The cost of the reactor itself is comparatively lower, although the infrastructure and fuel used for its production are highly expensive. While nuclear energy can provide reliable, consistent power daily, it is inherently less sustainable than other renewable sources.
Carbon dioxide emissions reductions from nuclear power
The use of nuclear power to generate electricity has several advantages. It is a carbon-free option that provides nearly 20 percent of the electricity produced in the UNECE region and provides 43 percent of low-carbon electricity generation. While it comes with potential hazards such as radioactive waste, nuclear power can help stabilize energy supplies as the world moves away from fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide.
Many environmentalists and climate scientists have made a strong case for nuclear power as a viable solution to the problem of climate change. Scientists say that nuclear energy can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90 percent. This reduction is far more significant than the combined carbon dioxide produced by coal, wind, and solar power. The United States government estimates that nuclear power could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by about 111 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt-hour.
Impact of nuclear power on national security
The Working Group on Climate, Nuclear, and Security Affairs (CNSA) drafted a framework for understanding these issues, including their intersection. In this framework, nuclear power and climate change are examined together to address global energy access, increasing population density, and the dangers of nuclear war.
The debate about the use of nuclear power to combat climate change should be global. There are several issues requiring international attention, and nuclear power is an essential solution to them. Ultimately, nuclear power must be deployed to meet national security and climate change goals, but they should not be mutually exclusive. Expanding the scope of nuclear science to include national security and civilian nuclear power sectors is a step in the right direction. It will elevate the debate on nuclear power to combat climate change.
Investing in nuclear power
While there are other ways to fight climate change, investing in nuclear power is a great way to reduce emissions. Nuclear power has a low carbon footprint and is a politically and technologically viable option for expanding electricity generation. Nuclear energy mitigation potential is calculated using an extreme scenario, substituting all fossil-fuelled power plants with nuclear power plants. To replace all fossil-fuelled power plants, the nuclear sector would need to add 3,500 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear power capacity.
New European Commission proposals are guiding private investors in their investments. These new regulations consider nuclear and gas “green” under certain conditions. Those conditions are essential when investing in nuclear or gas projects. It may be best to invest in a hybrid of both nuclear and gas technologies. While nuclear is an excellent alternative to coal, it can be costly, and new nuclear reactors will not be ready by 2030.