One issue raised at the conference I recently attended was this: both Ontario and Germany are in the position where they want to phase out coal-fired power plants. In addition, Germany has decided to phase out nuclear power, whereas Ontario is strongly considering maintaining and expanding existing facilities. In order to phase out nuclear without continuing to rely on dirty coal, one presenter asserted that carbon capture and storage (CCS) on coal plants is the only feasible and politically acceptable option.
Assuming for the moment that maintaining adequate energy supplies in the near-term requires one or the other, which is the more suitable choice? With nuclear, the risks are largely known and the biggest uncertainties relate to costs. With CCS, there are huge uncertainties about cost, alongside big uncertainties about safety, scale, and feasibility. The worst you get with nuclear is a lot of wasted taxpayer money, more nuclear proliferation, contaminated sites, and some accidents. The worst you get by relying on CCS is wasted money, accidents, proliferation of coal plants, and the extension of the high-carbon phase in whatever countries bet wrongly that it will work.
To me, if the choice is exclusively between nuclear fission and CCS right now, it seems that nuclear is the most risk-averse option. That being said, the calculation may change a great deal when you factor in opportunities for conserving power, using it more efficiently, and generating it using renewables. That won’t make CCS more attractive, relative to nuclear, but it may mean we are presented with a less stark choice than was assumed at the outset of this discussion.