Change the record!
The same old objections to Nuclear Energy
I was reading an article in The Ferret the other day. The theme of which was how the nuclear industry is lobbying Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to reverse their opposition to nuclear energy use in Scotland.
As an advocate of nuclear energy — strike that — I am an advocate of reversing climate change across the climate and as such, as a Project Manager in the nuclear industry, I feel that I can best support our global endeavour by helping to raise the profile of the nuclear industry, promoting the use of the technology and helping people find work in the sector.
So, as an advocate of finding ways of providing a secure, safe, sustainable environment for future generations an article with an anti-nuclear headline is right up my street.
Whatever objection will they come up with next…
Fast forward a couple of minutes, and I must admit I was really engaged in the passion of the writing and genuinely enjoyed reading others’ perspectives — I find this gives me a much broader view of the whole situation.
There are some really smart people, much smarter than I, that remain categorically against the use of nuclear energy. For most of these people, I cannot see an ulterior motive so like to explore if I am missing something.
However, my initial interest and enthusiasm in the article declined when I reached the paragraph “The industry describes nuclear power as “zero carbon” and regards its expansion as vital to combat climate change. But critics say the technology is costly and creates toxic waste — and that renewables and energy efficiency are faster and cheaper solutions to the climate emergency.”
I have heard these arguments made many times over, and from what I have seen the case for nuclear is more than adequately made in the face of these arguments.
So, come on Rod Edwards, at least look like you’ve put some effort into highlighting the reasons why the people of Scotland oppose the use of nuclear energy. Don’t just rinse and repeat old objections.
Nuclear is too expensive:
Nuclear energy over the long term is pretty cheap, with the majority of the costs coming from trying to demonstrate that the technology is safe and by only building one or two plants at a time we fail to benefit from any economies of scale.
As such we see the cost increases you would expect with any first-of-a-kind project.
Nuclear energy is the most cost-effective, sustainable energy source that we have. The frustrating part is that we have known this for decades. Take France, which had the foresight to generate around 70% of the country's electricity from nuclear energy.
According to Eurostat electricity prices in France are at 0.2022 Euro per kWh with the electricity price in anti-nuclear Germany and Denmark at 0.3234 and 0.3448 Euro per kWh respectively.
The time it takes to build a single nuclear power plant has a big impact on the business case. The construction time associated with a nuclear power station raises questions about the deployability of nuclear to meet timely demands to decarbonise energy production across the world.
What is often missed is that the construction time associated with nuclear new-build power plants is a big reason for the costs of building the plants.
Time-related costs associated with project management with continued inflation and interest rates over the longer construction duration add a lot to the total costs of building a nuclear power plant.
Much of this elongated time in recent years is due to the fact that we have been constrained to building nuclear power plants in ones and twos. In previous decades we have built fleets as quickly as a nuclear power plant in 5 years. This is exactly what we are seeing in China at the moment.
The irony is that to remove the argument that nuclear power is too costly and not quickly deployable enough, we need to see sense and make the decision to build fleets of new nuclear power plants.
It is with such decisions that we stand the best chance to fight the climate crisis.
Nuclear generates toxic waste:
I’m going to answer this succinctly here, but please read the section on What About The Waste? in an article I wrote for the Get Into Nuclear website.
As for the operations of a current-generation nuclear plant — the whole of the US (93 operating reactors) produces 2,000 metric tons of used fuel per year. If you took all the waste produced by the US throughout its nuclear energy production since 1950, it would fit onto a single football field at a height of 10 meters.
Nuclear waste is hazardous due to its radioactivity. This concentrated energy could cause the molecules in our body to react in ways that can be highly damaging, sometimes giving rise to cancer.
It is always difficult to compare how hazardous certain materials are. Something like cyanide would kill you within moments. Inhaling plutonium would increase the likelihood of cancer developing in several years.
As for the fact that it is hazardous for a million years — around 97% of nuclear waste is hazardous for 10’s of years before being safely disposed of. The remaining 3% or so does need to be isolated from the environment for the long term. After 40 years the radioactivity of this waste will be down to 1/1000th from when it left the reactor.
The nuclear industry has the technology and methodology to store all its nuclear waste. Geological disposal facilities (GDFs) are currently used to dispose of other toxic wastes, including those containing mercury, cyanide, arsenic and dioxins.
Nuclear energy generates tiny amounts of nuclear waste that can be managed and stored as safely as we manage and store other toxic substances. It is more a fact of public acceptance than technological solutions.
Renewables are faster and cheaper to deploy:
As mentioned above, there are ways that we can reduce the costs and time associated with the construction of a nuclear power plant. However, it does need to be acknowledged that there have been massive leaps forward with renewable technologies, particularly wind and solar.
However, Renewables, unfortunately, are not an effective enough technology to be sufficient without needing to take up huge areas of land. Land that many countries do not have to spare and major uses of land have their own issues and concerns on the local wildlife and environment.
Renewables can get us some way to providing the power that we need, but there remains a demand for a baseload energy source, ideally from a clean energy technology — only nuclear can provide this clean energy baseload.
Energy Efficiencies are more effective and faster to deploy:
As for energy efficiency, this is personally something that I am only just starting to sink my teeth into.
At first appearance, it looks like there is much more that we can be doing in the field. We can bring changes in the way we consume energy to bring demand down by promoting energy efficiency.
I still feel it is only part of the solution for a forward-looking energy mix — NUCLEAR + SOLAR + WIND + ENERGY EFFICIENCIES.
Start using “AND” instead of “OR”
A big problem we have is that we continue to think of energy mix scenarios as binary. Far too often we discuss an energy production technology as Wind OR fossil fuels, Solar OR Nuclear Energy. We need to change the narrative to AND.
If we can discuss the use of renewables AND nuclear energy there will be no need for The Ferret to cast a negative light on the fact that the nuclear industry is trying to make the case for using nuclear energy in Scotland.
Lobbying a clean energy source should be seen as a good thing, should it not?
And there is certainly no need to dig out old anti-nuclear arguments that have been refuted time and time again.
If we could accept nuclear energy as the baseload energy as part of a future energy mix — e.g. maintain the 20% nuclear baseload energy in the UK, or look to increase nuclear power generation to France’s 70% — we will gain in increased deployability and decreased costs when building a nuclear fleet.
AND with the continued increased deployment of renewables, we will be able to provide a truly sustainable energy generation for future generations.