Nuclear power is unprofitable and could worsen climate change


The climate crisis is upon us and we have no time to waste. We cannot afford a single misstep. Even though the UN climate conference COP26 failed to put us on the necessary path to keep the world below 1.5 degrees Celsius of increased warming, there are still important choices to be made as the countries are rolling out their latest climate plans.

This is why the United States, in its quest to reduce carbon emissions, must not be misled by the false promises of nuclear power, both its continued use and its illusory new programs. Either would be a mistake.

The push to develop new nuclear reactors is focused on so-called advanced reactors and small modular reactors (SMRs), designs of which uncertainties about costs and safety have not been treated satisfactorily.

Yet Congress is already seeking to award only two designs of “advanced” fast reactors – the Terrapower Natrium reactor and X-energy Xe-100 reactor – extravagant subsidies of $ 3.2 billion, although the first is a project by billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

SMRs, typically less than a third the size of a traditional nuclear reactor, would have to be used in the hundreds, if not thousands, to achieve the claimed cost savings, a factor that has left designs on the drawing board for decades. decades and has not attracted buyers. Even if these unproven designs work, such a program would never be done on a scale or in time to reduce carbon emissions.

This probable failure is reinforced by the recent experience of building new traditional reactors. They are constantly experiencing massive delays and cost increases, which suggests that the commercialization of new, untested reactor designs would not go faster or be cheaper.

For example another $ 1 billion just added to the ever-increasing tab at Plant Vogtle’s two Westinghouse reactors in Georgia – ongoing since 2013, but still unfinished – with costs inflated to over $ 33 billion, and further delays likely pushing up final completion in 2024 if ever.

The French-designed Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) is arguably a spectacular failure with massive cost overruns, long delays and endless technical flaws. More recently, at the Taishan 1 EPR in China, currently in service, vibrations damaged fuel rods, forcing it to shut down. The issue could be related to a design flaw also found in the four still unfinished EPRs in Europe, causing a French nuclear laboratory to raise doubts about their safety.

Aware of these challenges, the The American nuclear industry focuses most of its energy on keeping its current fleet of 93 reactors operating, arguing that they are carbon-free. This is patently false – and it is not true of any artificial energy source, including renewables, as long as the mining, transportation and manufacturing of these technologies are so dependent on fossil fuels.

However, the “zero emission” mantra has been used to justify the inclusion of nuclear power plants in state and federal grants. If he had survived Sen. Joe manchinJoe Manchin Democrats like what they saw in Harris-Charlamagne God trades Biden’s policies are not very happy Miserly Manchin stole Christmas and hope from American families MORE (DW.Va.), the promising Build Back Better Act may have shot itself in the foot again by including a massive $ 35 billion subsidy for nuclear power plants already in operation in its “Production Credit”. ‘zero emission nuclear power’. The grant is said to have funneled billions of dollars to companies that own nuclear power plants, almost all of which will continue to operate with or without such support.

Subsidizing nuclear power diverts funds away from real solutions, like renewables, just when they are most urgent, thus exacerbating climate change.

Redirecting funds to old nuclear power plants still misses the point that even if they were carbon-free, this is not alone mean that nuclear power is a good way to deal with the climate crisis because it ignores its two biggest climate drawbacks: time and cost.

As a Stanford physicist Amory Lovins stressed, to tackle the climate crisis quickly and efficiently, we must choose energy sources that can reduce the greatest amount of carbon emissions the fastest and at the lowest cost. This is where renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation beat nuclear energy – as well as now gas and coal.

A recent University of Sussex to study has shown that countries that have focused on nuclear power have not significantly reduced carbon emissions. Meanwhile, countries with strong renewable energy programs have.

Nuclear power is not profitable and takes too long. That alone should rule it out as useful for climate protection, before even considering other disqualifying factors such as environmental justice and the health impacts of deadly long-lived radioactive waste and potential mergers. Our future must not depend on the nuclear industry’s false choice between climate chaos and carcinogenic pollution. We can and must do better.

Tim Judson is Executive Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a non-profit environmental organization founded in 1978 that works for a just and equitable transition to renewable energy and a nuclear and carbon-free world.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international scholar of Beyond Nuclear, a non-profit anti-nuclear organization working for a world free from nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

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