Research Study: “Nuclear Power: A False Solution to Climate Change,” Wise Paris, 2015
In the face of declining nuclear power generation worldwide, nuclear industry leaders and their political and media allies are suggesting that this technology is an appropriate and indispensable solution to fight climate change. In the study, “NUCLEAR POWER: A FALSE SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE” (October 2015), a consortium of organizations (i.e. Les Amis de la Terre, la Fondation Heinrich Böll, France Nature Environnement, Greenpeace, le Réseau Action Climat, Réseau Sortir du Nucléaire, Wise Amsterdam) together published a report drafted by Wise Paris which compiled arguments demonstrating that nuclear energy is a false solution to fight climate change and reduce GHG emissions. Considering the importance of nuclear energy in France (France being the second largest nuclear energy electricity producer in the world), this study is crucial to reverse the current trend to rely on nuclear energy to cope with GHG emissions.
The report is built around three main ideas:
- Risks: Reinforcing the role of nuclear energy can only lead to an increasing risk of proliferation, major accidents, and waste accumulation which are related to it.
- Efficiency: nuclear only brings limited emission reduction percentages of GHG emissions and its role, restricted to emissions related to electricity, declines as other more efficient options grows.
- Coherency: every new nuclear power plant project replaces cheaper and faster options to reduce emissions. Moreover, existing nuclear power plants represent an obstacle to the implementation of these options.
1. Related risks to nuclear proliferation
- Spreading civilian nuclear power can lead to the use of nuclear energy for military purposes. A global conflict could lead to a nuclear winter fatal to humanity.
- A growing risk of nuclear accident: major nuclear accidents reveal the fragility of the measures taken to prevent them. Various factors (e.g. terrorism, economic pressure, aging, etc.) contribute to reinforce this risk.
- Accumulation of wastes: Nuclear energy generates nuclear waste, for which there is no definitive management solution.
2. A limited impact on emission reduction:
- Indirect Co2 emission: Nuclear produces indirect GHG emissions that are equal to several dozens of grams of Co2 per kWh, a level close to renewable energies and way below fossil energy, but not equal to zero.
- Limited contribution to emission control: Nuclear represents around 1.5 billion tons of CO2 avoided compared to current emissions. This effect is limited considering that emissions have drastically increased since the development of nuclear energy (20 times more). Therefore, nuclear energy cannot be considered as capable of reversing this trend.
- A declining energy and climate role: With the decline of world nuclear electricity production and stagnation of the number of nuclear power plants, its role in contributing to global emission reduction is declining as well.
- A limited scope: Nuclear only has an impact on emissions generated by the electricity sector which only represents less than 25% of the total emissions. In France, the development of nuclear reaching 80% of the total electricity production only contributed to reduce CO2 emissions by 15%.
3. An obstacle to more performing solutions
- A non-competitive option: Nuclear has generally experienced a continuous increase of its costs and became less competitive than the most performing renewable energies and energy savings. The construction of new nuclear power plants is in the long run one of the most expensive options for emission reduction.
- An insufficient lever for action: No country so far has demonstrated that nuclear can bring back GHG emissions to a sustainable level (e.g. case of the USA, first nuclear producer and second biggest GHG emitter).
- A non-necessary option: To the contrary, many countries have shown the feasibility and efficiency of alternative options (e.g. Example of Germany which is getting out of nuclear energy while at the same time making great strides in reducing emissions).
- An obstacle to energy transition: Nuclear is a brake on implementing the deep transformation of the energy system. It postpones also economic opportunities especially related to employment (e.g. Renewable energy creates 5 times as many jobs as nuclear power).
The study recommends focusing on two main measures in order to fight climate change:
- Saving energy: Enormous potential for saving energy exists in every sector in France: construction, industry, transport, information technology, household appliances, etc. According to the study consortium, being efficient with the energy used, which is less expensive than producing it, brings about numerous advantages such as reduced energy expenses and job creation.
- Promoting and developing renewable energy: The consortium indicates that according to the ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency), achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2050 would have a cost similar to maintaining nuclear energy. According to the study, France has the potential to produce three times as much renewable electricity as the current demand for power.
There is an urgent need in France to break out of the stranglehold of nuclear energy and to deploy real efforts in the direction of energy transition and energy efficiency. Unfortunately, nuclear energy in France still represents 75% of the French electricity mix and the costs for shutting down nuclear power plants make the promotion of renewable energy quite difficult and impede the energy transition in France. The fact that EDF, which is running nuclear power plants, is mainly State owned demonstrates that the decision to effectively implement the energy transition belongs to the government and therefore requires political will.