The False Economy of Abandoning Nuclear Power

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There is now near universal agreement that the electricity generation industry must be almost entirely decarbonised by 2050 to prevent the rise in average global temperature from exceeding 2°C. However, the way in which this goal should be reached continues to be vigorously debated.

Some campaigners claim that by mid-century Britain, and indeed other countries, will be able to meet all its energy needs from renewables. Pointing to the delays and cost overruns experienced recently in the construction of some new nuclear plants they argue that, despite its impeccable credentials as a reliable supplier of low carbon baseload electricity, nuclear power should now be phased out along with coal.

They suggest that gas can fill the capacity gap caused by the closure of coal plants until the massive (and so far, uncosted) electricity storage facilities, which will be needed as dependence on intermittent energy sources increases, are available. Substituting gas for coal will also cut carbon emissions.

This Report “The False Economy of Abandoning Nuclear Power”, which has been commissioned by The New Nuclear Watch Institute, examines these arguments. It considers both the environmental impact and the financial costs of phasing out nuclear and relying instead on a combination of extra renewables and gas.

It compares this impact and these costs with an alternative approach designed to minimise levelised system cost of electricity. This alternative involves keeping nuclear in the energy mix, together with renewables and a small but diminishing role for gas as a balancing fuel.

The Report’s conclusions are stark. Abandoning nuclear power leads unavoidably to a very big increase in carbon emissions which will prevent Britain from meeting its legally binding climate change commitments. It also raises the cost of electricity.

These conclusions are consistent with the experience of Germany after its decision several years ago to phase out nuclear. They emphasise the folly of following the German example and the need for choices about the energy mix in all countries to be made on the basis of objective analysis.

NNWI has always believed that both nuclear and renewables have an important contribution to make. In our view both are needed to ensure that dangerous and irreversible climate change is successfully averted.

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