Nuclear energy policy

2021-03-10

in Canada, Economics, Politics, The environment

This week’s Economist has a pretty solid middle-of-the-road editorial position on nuclear energy in a world with a climate crisis:

Solar and wind power are now much cheaper, but they are intermittent. Providing a reliable grid is a lot easier if some of its generating capacity can be assumed to be available all the time. Nuclear provides such capacity with no ongoing emissions, and it is doing so safely and at scale around the world.

Despite this, safe and productive nuclear plants are being closed across the rich world. Those closures and the retirement of older sites mean that advanced economies could lose two-thirds of their nuclear capacity by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency. If new fossil-fuel infrastructure fills the gap, it will last for decades. If renewables do so, the opportunity cost will be measured in gigatonnes of carbon. Renewables replacing nuclear capacity would almost always be better deployed to replace fossil-fuel capacity.

Sometimes the closure of nuclear plants is largely a matter of economics. In places where emitting carbon dioxide comes with no price, such as America, the benefits of being emissions-free are hidden from the market. That hurts nuclear, and it should be rectified. When closure is political, the onus is on Green politicians, in particular, to change their tune. To hasten the decline of nuclear power is wilfully to hobble the world in the greatest environmental struggle of all.

Related topics:

Papers on nuclear energy:

Canada’s nuclear industry:

Nuclear waste

Nuclear economics

Nuclear energy and climate change

New reactor types and designs

Nuclear energy and weapon proliferation

Accidents and safety

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

. May 5, 2021 at 7:45 pm

Against all that, though, two things must be remembered. One is that well-regulated nuclear power is safe. With the terrible Soviet-era exception of Chernobyl, nuclear disasters come without large death tolls. It was the tsunami, not radiation, that claimed nearly all those lives in Fukushima. The other is that the climate is in crisis, and nuclear plants can supply some of the vast amounts of emissions-free electricity the world needs if it is to cope. Solar and wind power are now much cheaper, but they are intermittent. Providing a reliable grid is a lot easier if some of its generating capacity can be assumed to be available all the time. Nuclear provides such capacity with no ongoing emissions, and it is doing so safely and at scale around the world.

Despite this, safe and productive nuclear plants are being closed across the rich world. Those closures and the retirement of older sites mean that advanced economies could lose two-thirds of their nuclear capacity by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency. If new fossil-fuel infrastructure fills the gap, it will last for decades. If renewables do so, the opportunity cost will be measured in gigatonnes of carbon. Renewables replacing nuclear capacity would almost always be better deployed to replace fossil-fuel capacity.

Sometimes the closure of nuclear plants is largely a matter of economics. In places where emitting carbon dioxide comes with no price, such as America, the benefits of being emissions-free are hidden from the market. That hurts nuclear, and it should be rectified. When closure is political, the onus is on Green politicians, in particular, to change their tune. To hasten the decline of nuclear power is wilfully to hobble the world in the greatest environmental struggle of all.

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