Nuclear is not a strategy that will help with the climate crisis. Renewables are a better alternative to nuclear small modular reactors for two main reasons: cost and speed of deployment. While the costs of renewables are plummeting, nuclear costs have steadily been on the rise. And during a climate emergency and Canada’s dash to a 40-45% emissions reduction by 2030, renewables can be set up much faster and more reliably.
This post features a statement issued by former US, German and French experts in nuclear regulation and radiation protection. Dr. Gregory Jaczko, Professor Wolfgang Renneberg, Dr. Bernard Laponche and Dr. Paul Dorfman authored Nuclear is not a practicable means to combat climate change which is reproduced below.
Nuclear is Not a Climate Solution
The climate is running hot. Evolving knowledge of climate sensitivity and polar ice melt-rate makes clear that sea-level rise is ramping, along with destructive storm, storm surge, severe precipitation and flooding, not forgetting wildfire. With mounting concern and recognition over the speed and pace of the low carbon energy transition that’s needed, nuclear has been reframed as a partial response to the threat of global heating. But at the heart of this are questions about whether nuclear could help with the climate crisis, whether nuclear is economically viable, what are the consequences of nuclear accidents, what to do with the waste, and whether there’s a place for nuclear within the swiftly expanding renewable energy evolution.
As key experts who have worked on the front-line of the nuclear issue, we’ve all involved at the highest governmental nuclear regulatory and radiation protection levels in the US, Germany, France and UK. In this context, we consider it our collective responsibility to comment on the main issue: Whether nuclear could play a significant role as a strategy against climate change.
The central message, repeated again and again, that a new generation of nuclear will be clean, safe, smart and cheap, is fiction. The reality is that nuclear is neither clean, safe or smart, but a very complex technology with the potential to cause significant harm.
Nuclear isn’t cheap, but extremely costly. Perhaps most importantly nuclear is just not part of any feasible strategy that could counter climate change. To make a relevant contribution to global power generation, up to more than ten thousand new reactors would be required, depending on reactor design.
In short, nuclear as strategy against climate change is:
- Too costly in absolute terms to make a relevant contribution to global power production;
- More expensive than renewable energy in terms of energy production and CO2 mitigation, even taking into account costs of grid management tools like energy storage associated with renewables roll-out;
- Too costly and risky for financial market investment, and therefore dependent on very large public subsidies and loan guarantees;
- Unsustainable due to the unresolved problem of very long-lived radioactive waste;
- Financially unsustainable as no economic institution is prepared to insure against the full potential cost, environmental and human impacts of accidental radiation release – with the majority of those very significant costs being borne by the public;
- Militarily hazardous since newly promoted reactor designs increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation;
- Inherently risky due to unavoidable cascading accidents from human error, internal faults, and external impacts; vulnerability to climate-driven sea-level rise, storm, storm surge, inundation and flooding hazard, resulting in international economic impacts;
- Subject to too many unresolved technical and safety problems associated with newer unproven concepts, including ‘Advanced’ and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs);
- Too unwieldy and complex to create an efficient industrial regime for reactor construction and operation processes within the intended build-time and scope needed for climate change mitigation;
- Unlikely to make a relevant contribution to necessary climate change mitigation needed by the 2030’s due to nuclear’s impracticably lengthy development and construction time-lines, and the overwhelming construction costs of the very great volume of reactors that would be needed to make a difference.
Gordon Edwards is a Canadian scientist and nuclear expert—and also a self-declared nuclear sceptic—who submitted the following response to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change consultation that ended on January 21:
New nuclear reactors currently proposed are too slow and too costly to make a significant difference in reducing carbon emissions by 2030. Wind and solar are cheaper and faster to deploy and are also field tested, unlike any proposed new reactors. Renewables can make an impressive contribution by 2030, and more so by 2050, with widespread deployment. New nuclear can contribute very little before 2030, especially since the proposed nuclear designs are first-of-a-kind prototypes subject to unanticipated delays and cost escalations. — Gordon Edwards
More on the authors of the communique:
Dr. Greg Jaczko, former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Prof. Wolfgang Renneberg, former Head of the Reactor Safety, Radiation Protection and Nuclear Waste, Federal Environment Ministry, Germany.
Dr. Bernard Laponche, former Director General, French Agency for Energy Management, former Advisor to French Minister of Environment, Energy and Nuclear Safety.
Dr. Paul Dorfman, former Secretary UK Govt. Committee Examining Radiation Risk from Internal Emitters.
We Need To Do More and Faster Says New Climate Minister Guilbeault
Climate Change: Adaptation Is No Longer a Dirty Word
Canada’s Big Oil Reality Check
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
To say that the waste problem has not been solved is false. Every form of energy production has a waste problem including hydro which produces massive amounts of Methane. That said E=MC2 means that an exponentially tiny amount of matter creates an exponentially massive amount of energy, hence it follows that your “waste” stream is also exponentially smaller. Over 96% of nuclear “waste” is potentially reusable in advanced reactors and even the remainder has potential uses in Space exploration, medicine, and industry. Numerous precious metals are left behind in nuclear “waste” which makes one wonder if this is not a misnomer to define it as such. Furthermore, the radiation is contained and there has been no evidence of spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors hurting humans or the environment. There is no proliferation threat either. Nuclear proliferation requires special reactors for that purpose and the existence of nuclear power plants has actually facilitated disarmament through the Megatons to Megawatt program which has converted nuclear warheads into electricity. Intermittent renewable sources look good on paper but need backup and, therefore, must come with a “batteries not included” sticker since there is no such thing as a battery that can handle the gaps on any major municipal grid even on the drawing board. The opinion of these four is just that. The findings of the IPCC is that deep decarbonization is impossible without nuclear power. I believe their assessment carries far more weight. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/08/1097572
Welcome to Below2C Gabe.
Thank you for the clarification on nuclear waste. I’m not opposed to the evolution of nuclear as one of many sources of energy going forward. I’m opposed to the noise about SMRs because it is being used as another distraction from the main problem humans face – fossil fuels. We simply cannot afford to postpone the phasing-out of fossil fuels any longer
Your feedback is appreciated.
[…] Four Senior Nuclear Officials Say Nuclear Is Not A Climate Solution […]
[…] Four Senior Nuclear Officials Say Nuclear Is Not A Climate Solution […]