In the wake of Japan’s earthquake disaster we all feel compassion for the Japanese people and watch with awe how they are working together, helping each other, sharing their knowledge and hoping for the best outcome in rebuilding their lives.
In light of these events perhaps we should consider questioning what contribution nuclear power can make to cutting carbon emissions.
In 2002, 23% of the UK’s electricity came from nuclear.
CO2 emissions from nuclear electricity generation are about 22% of emissions from gas fired electricity generation, or 10% of coal fired (i.e. it is not carbon free, but it is quite low carbon).
If the UK’s nuclear capacity was doubled, it would give us only about an 8% reduction in our total CO2 emissions by 2035. Source: Printed lecture notes from March 2010 module at CAT, and Sustainable Development Commission
CO2 emissions from electricity production (termed ‘energy supply sector’ in DECC statistics) accounted for 39% of our total emissions (35% of total greenhouse gas emissions, expressed as CO2 equivalent).
Many people think that if we go nuclear, job done. But they forget the emissions from transport, heating, and food production, which nuclear cannot reduce – unless we expand the total electricity supply 3 or 4 fold so we can use electric vehicles, electric heating, and electricity to make nitrogen fertiliser, instead of the oil and gas used at present.
Conclusion? This is only an opinion: nuclear electricity can make a small but significant contribution and has a place, but lots of other things need to be done.
It should be regarded as a bridge to a decarbonised electricity supply in around 2050, with a long term aim to abandon it because of problems with waste disposal.
Efforts to increase the contribution from renewables must not be inhibited by an effort to replace and expand nuclear