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Is nuclear energy actually sustainable? 

If successive governments had given even half the love and attention they afford to nuclear power to scaling up home insulation, energy efficiency and smart storage technologies, it’s likely we wouldn’t be facing current challenges around energy and household bills, and we would have done a lotmore good for the climate and nature.”

  Sizewell C, if built, would not produce electricity until the 2030s. A debate in the House of Commons on 19 January, led by a group of MPs known as the “atomic kittens”, suggested nuclear energy can be a
panacea for all ills – including a solution for the climate crisis and the gas crunch.

The facts suggest otherwise. In addition to safety
concerns, rising costs are a central reason why the number of new plants
under construction remains limited. Since 2011, nuclear power construction
costs globally have doubled or even tripled.

China is, however, notable in
its nuclear ambitions. The country is planning at least 150 new reactors in
the next 15 years, more than the rest of the world has built in the past
35, though cost could ultimately change this direction of travel.

The major excitement among many nuclear enthusiasts, including plenty of UK MPs is
around so-called small modular reactors (SMRs). If you believe the hype,
they are the answer to all climate and energy ills.

Traditional, big nuclear projects look likely to provide only a sliver of the world’s
electricity in the future. They are hugely expensive to build, their
construction runs over time, and they are frequently struck by
technological issues.

Moreover, they need to be built close to the sea or a
large river for cooling reasons, highlighted Paul Dorfman from the
University of Sussex. France has already had to curtail nuclear power
output in periods of heatwaves and drought, which are only set to get worse
as climate change takes hold. Greater storm surges and eroding coastlines
also don’t make the prospect of building by the sea any easier. SMRs
solve few of these issues.

So what is the solution? Renewables, renewables
and more renewables? In short, yes. The costs of solar, wind power and
storage continue to fall, and by 2026 global renewable electricity capacity
is forecast to rise by more than 60 per cent, to a level that would equal
the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear
combined, says the IEA. Some argue nuclear can be a clean back-up option
for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun isn’t shining.

But again, other options already exist, including demand response (for example,
plugging in your electric car when there is lots of energy and not
switching on your washing machine when the system is under strain),
large-scale storage and interconnections between different countries.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, summed up the general mood
of those less enthused by nuclear than Crosbie and her fans: “If
successive governments had given even half the love and attention they
afford to nuclear power to scaling up home insulation, energy efficiency
and smart storage technologies, it’s likely we wouldn’t be facing current
challenges around energy and household bills, and we would have done a lot
more good for the climate and nature.”

 New Statesman 12th Nov 2022

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November 12, 2022 - Posted by | ENERGY

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