Nuclear power is not the enemy

Aysima Ahmadli // 17 August 2023

Concerns over the damage caused by climate change have prompted a global push for increased investments in renewable energy. This has led to a rise in research and development (R&D) spending on nuclear energy, with countries like the US, Japan, and Korea setting clear objectives for building new nuclear plants and encouraging investment. In Europe, the pressing issue of energy independence has driven many countries to explore alternative sources of energy, including nuclear power. However, the lasting impacts of tragic accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima have created a division among European nations regarding the adoption of nuclear energy. To challenge prevailing misconceptions and highlight its potential as a low-emission alternative to fossil fuels, it is important to understand the safety and benefits of nuclear power.

Between 2018 and 2022, R&D spending on nuclear energy increased from approximately 1.8 per cent to 3 per cent (World Energy Investment Report). For instance, Korea aims to increase nuclear power to 35 per cent of total generation, while Japan is focusing on studying ways to extend the lifetime of nuclear power plants beyond 60 years.

The interest in nuclear energy has also spread to Europe, which is grappling with the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In an effort to achieve energy independence, many European countries have turned to alternative energy sources – including nuclear power – and have sought partnerships with oil and gas–rich states like Azerbaijan. On 28 February 2023, 11 European nations committed to closer cooperation throughout the nuclear supply chain and the promotion of joint industrial projects in new technologies. The primary purpose of this meeting was to actively participate in partnerships on small modular reactors (SMRs) and diversify away from Russian fuels.

Contrary to popular belief, studies reveal that nuclear energy is the second-safest form of renewable energy, far surpassing the risks associated with fossil fuels. The death rate per unit of electricity production showcases nuclear energy’s safety, with only 0.03 deaths per terawatt-hour. In comparison, coal – especially brown coal – and oil pose significant dangers, with a staggering death rate of 32.72 per unit of electricity production.

Critics often accuse those who advocate for nuclear power as the best low-emission alternative to oil and gas of ‘greenwashing’ due to concerns about nuclear waste and the associated inconvenience. However, if we evaluate the quality of an energy source based on its impact on air quality, land footprint, and efficiency, nuclear power consistently ranks at the top of the list. Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear fission does not release any harmful by-products. Data from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy reveals that in 2019, the US avoided over 471 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions through nuclear power, surpassing the combined impact of all other clean energy sources and equivalent to removing 100 million automobiles from the road.

Furthermore, compared to other forms of renewable energy, nuclear power requires less land to generate a higher quantity of electricity. To ensure an efficient transition to nuclear energy in Europe, several steps can be taken, such as deregulation and the streamlining of approval processes to simplify and expedite the transition. Implementing emissions trading or increasing carbon taxes would naturally incentivise a shift towards low-emission alternatives. The average carbon tax rate per ton of CO2 in Europe stands at €42.77, with Liechtenstein and Switzerland having the highest rates (€117.27) and Ukraine and Poland the lowest rates (€0.93 and €0.07, respectively). Establishing an appropriate rate for all European countries to adopt would be crucial.

Despite the lingering concerns stemming from past nuclear disasters, it is imperative to reassess the safety and benefits of nuclear energy. Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that nuclear power is one of the safest forms of renewable energy, surpassing the risks associated with fossil fuels. Moreover, its positive impact on air quality, land footprint, and carbon emissions cannot be overlooked. As Europe confronts the challenges of achieving energy independence and addressing climate change, it is essential to consider the potential of nuclear power and take the necessary steps to facilitate an efficient transition.

By streamlining approval processes, implementing emissions trading or carbon taxes, and establishing appropriate rates across the continent, Europe can lead the way towards a sustainable energy future which maximises the advantages of nuclear power while simultaneously addressing concerns related to waste management. With a comprehensive approach and an accurate understanding of the facts, nuclear energy can play a significant role in mitigating the climate crisis and securing a cleaner, greener future for generations to come.

Nuclear power has the potential to revolutionise energy landscapes, empowering individuals and businesses alike with its clean, reliable, and abundant energy. By harnessing nuclear fission, we can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and transition towards a sustainable future. The relatively steady and predictable nature of nuclear power ensures an uninterrupted electricity supply, bolstering economic growth by supporting industries and job creation. Additionally, its massive output capacity will lead to lower energy prices for consumers, alleviating financial burdens. Moreover, embracing nuclear energy would enhance energy security, reduce dependence on volatile fossil fuel markets, and establish a resilient foundation for our energy needs, thus ensuring a stable and prosperous future.

EPICENTER publications and contributions from our member think tanks are designed to promote the discussion of economic issues and the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. As with all EPICENTER publications, the views expressed here are those of the author and not EPICENTER or its member think tanks (which have no corporate view).


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