Climate change – why nuclear power isn’t part of the solution to this global crisis

2nd August 2021 | Commercial Energy

Over the past few weeks, the intensity and scale of the floods from slow-moving storms have broken records, and climate models are running hot. This has prompted some to champion nuclear power as a source of lower-carbon electricity. But this newfound USP needs to be considered within the bigger picture because UK coastal nuclear power stations will be one of the first, and most significant, casualties to ramping climate impact. Put simply, nuclear is quite literally on the front-line of climate change – and not in a good way.

All recent scientific data points to ramping sea-levels, faster, harder, more destructive storms and storm surges – inevitably bringing into question the operational safety, security and viability of UK coastal nuclear infrastructure.
Not normally given to exaggeration, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers says we may have to ‘up sticks’, relocate or abandon nuclear sites. This will cost. Trying to defend coastal nuclear means significantly increased expense for nuclear operation, waste management, and the 100-year-plus programme to decontaminate the UK’s 17 old nuclear reactors.

For nuclear to be practical, reactors have to be built economically, efficiently and on time. But practical experience says otherwise. EDF’s flagship EPR reactor is vastly over-cost and over-time at the two sites where it’s being built, at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France.

Problems include poor concrete, bad welding and a faulty reactor pressure vessel – the main safety component. Things were supposed to have gone better in China, until last month’s nuclear fuel debacle demonstrated their inadequate safety oversight.

As for nuclear fusion, for the last 60 years proponents have said the technology will be ready in 20 years’ time – so perhaps this is an experiment to prove that time doesn’t exist in modern nuclear physics. The reality is nuclear is a high-risk option. And this plays out in real time. Worldwide, nuclear is in stark decline and renewables are rising. The obvious explanation is the ramping costs of the former and the plummeting costs of the latter. So, not all lower carbon options are equal, benign or effective – and there are choices to be made.

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