Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Why nuclear is a cul-de-sac en route to net zero carbon by 2050
Letter submitted to theGuarian on 10 November 2020: Your environment correspondent’s otherwise excellent report on the urgency of government action on net zero carbon (“Experts warn economies must act now on climate,” 9 November) includes nuclear power in a list of “low carbon efforts.” This is misleading. It is true that British business ministers (and politicians more widely) continue to include nuclear as a low carbon energy option. For instance, the Financial Times has reported (“US consortium revives plan for Welsh nuclear power plant, 10 November; https://www.ft.com/content/a210b0ed-8b82-4376-ac7d-a9a0d365d2d1) “a revival of plans for a [new] Wylfa nuclear plant would also underline Britain’s commitment to pursuing large atomic reactors as a way to achieve its net zero emissions target by 2050.” Indeed, new US President–elect Biden last July released a $2 trillion clean energy plan designed to achieve a carbon-free energy sector by 2035, which included keeping existing nuclear energy plants in operation. (“Biden’s $2 Trillion Clean Energy Plan Includes Nuclear NucNet, 16 July 2020;(https://www.nucnet.org/news/biden-s-usd2-trillion-clean-energy-plan-includes-nuclear-7-4-2020) Nuclear power will not provide any useful dent in curbing harmful emissions, as when the carbon footprint of its full uranium ‘fuel chain’ is considered- from uranium mining, milling, enrichment ( which is highly energy intensive), fuel fabrication, irradiation, radioactive waste conditioning, storage, packaging to final disposal – nuclear power's CO2 emissions are between 10 to 18 times greater than those from renewable energy technologies, according to a recent study by Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, California. (https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/ReviewSolGW09.pdf) An important new report collectively issued by six UK Parliamentary committees on 10 September, titled “The path to net zero”, prepared by a group of scientifically selected representative British citizens named the ‘Climate Assembly’ (https://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2020/september/climate-assembly-uk-new/) concluded after over six months detailed collaborative work that 46% of participants strongly disagreed nuclear could play a part towards reaching a net zero carbon economy by 2050, with a further 18% undecided. Amongst the reasons for the scepticism were “cost, safety, and issues around waste storage and decommissioning.” Ministers should pay heed to these arguments.