How sustainable is nuclear power for the UK?

The research into the sustainability of nuclear and other electricity options in the UK shows that nuclear power could make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. However, that would require a huge expansion of nuclear, constituting 35% of the electricity mix by 2035, almost double the current contribution.

Given that most current are due to close in this period, this scenario seems unfeasible, the authors claim.

At the same time, expansion of nuclear power would worsen other sustainability aspects, including depletion of natural resources, ozone layer depletion, toxicity and health impacts from radiation.

These are some of the findings by the SPRIng research consortium led by Professor Adisa Azapagic at The University of Manchester. SPRIng looks at the techno-economic, environmental, social and ethical sustainability of nuclear power in the UK.

SPRIng found that meeting UK targets would only be possible with a huge expansion of both renewables and nuclear electricity. By 2020, renewables would have to contribute 55% to the UK electricity mix by 2020 and nuclear 35% by 2035.

The SPRIng report, which is released today, also shows that if can be reduced significantly, nuclear power is not essential for meeting the UK climate change targets.

If, however, the consumption of energy continues to grow as it has in the past, the role of nuclear power becomes much more important in meeting climate change targets.

Expansion of nuclear power will depend on many factors, including availability of uranium, fuel used in today's nuclear reactors. Uranium shortages could within a few decades constrain any significant global expansion of uranium nuclear plants, unless major new uranium reserves can be identified and exploited economically.

The findings suggests that carbon taxation could play a significant role in promoting low-carbon electricity options, including nuclear. For example, a carbon price of £100 per tonne of carbon dioxide would be sufficient to make nuclear plants of current designs highly profitable.

The research also shows that even when the radiological consequences of a large accident are taken into account, nuclear power remains one of the safest sources of electricity.

However, the research claims, nuclear power poses complex ethical questions regarding its intergenerational impacts as future generations, who will not benefit from today's nuclear electricity, will have to bear both the risks and costs of nuclear decommissioning and waste management.

Professor Azapagic said: "Our research shows that there is no 'best' electricity option overall but the choice of sustainable options will depend on individual preferences of stakeholders, including the public and decision makers.

"For example, our findings suggest that solar, hydro and wind are the most favourable electricity options for the UK public. Nuclear power is favourable for 42% of the UK public while electricity from coal, oil and gas is least favoured.

"The Government should ensure that decisions on the future of and other options in the UK take into account a range of sustainability criteria rather than be based solely on a market-led approach dominated purely by economics.

"However, a market-led approach could play a role should it prove politically possible to set tight enough carbon targets with high enough penalties for non-compliance.

"Whether such leadership is possible is highly questionable. Even more doubtful is whether various stakeholders, including the UK public, would accept it.


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Citation: How sustainable is nuclear power for the UK? (2011, December 8) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2011-12-sustainable-nuclear-power-uk.html
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Dec 08, 2011
They got the results they wanted by carefully picking the end date.
If you are ramping nuclear build, it increases a lot more at the end, so had they picked 2040 or 2045 their results would have been very different.
They also go big on resource use for nuclear, which is downright odd considering that renewables use about 10 times as much materials.

As for radiation risk, there is no evidence for medical risk below 100mSv, way above most areas outside the gates of the plant at Fukushima, and we don't have 14 metre tidal waves too often in the UK.

This 'study' is entirely disingenuous and designed solely to baffle the public, which remains steadfastly pro-nuclear in the UK.

Dec 08, 2011
For example, a carbon price of £100 per tonne of carbon dioxide would be sufficient to make nuclear plants of current designs highly profitable.

Coupled with
However, the research claims, nuclear power poses complex ethical questions regarding its intergenerational impacts as future generations, who will not benefit from today's nuclear electricity, will have to bear both the risks and costs of nuclear decommissioning and waste management.

Should spell it out. Nuclear is not profitable - unless you don't care about putting your children in debt. It's stealing from the next generation.

While nations have always stolen from coming generations (which is what the deficits basically are) here it's very, very obvious.

and we don't have 14 metre tidal waves too often in the UK.

Neither did Chernobyl (there it was operator failure) - and you do have operators in the UK.

Dec 08, 2011
The uranium will be depleted soon, if it should replace the fossil fuels completely

http://thinkcarbo...-enough/
http://www.theoil...tion.png

Currently, only cold fusion can provide the sustainable solution of undergoing energetic (and subsequently financial) crisis

http://www.boston...ory.html

Dec 09, 2011
future generations, who will not benefit from today's nuclear electricity

Just as I do not benefit from carbon electricity produced prior to my birth. Oh wait, come to think of it that electricity helped my parents survive. It also allowed my country to develop and enhance it's technology, infrastructure and healthcare services that allow me the high quality of life that I am currently lucky enough to enjoy. Thank you non-beneficial energy of the past, thank you.

It's stealing from the next generation.

It's only stealing if there is no remuneration. Remuneration will be provided in the form of growth and development of newer and better technologies, health services and infrastructure.

Neither did Chernobyl (there it was operator failure) - and you do have operators in the UK.

The research also shows that even when the radiological consequences of a large accident are taken into account, nuclear power remains one of the safest sources of electricity.

Dec 09, 2011
Thank you non-beneficial energy of the past, thank you.

The point is that back then there was no alternative.
Today we can choose:
- Use polluting energy sources (coal, oil, gas, nuclear) and hand the ecological and economical costs down to the next generation
or
- Use non-polluting sources and hand down a planet that's in better (ar at least as good) shape as the one we have.

In earlier times the problem wasn't that great because there were far fewer people. The earth can compensate for some pollution. But currently we're overextending those mechanisms.
All the "remuneration of growth and development of newer and better technologies, health services and infrastructure" will be useless if the planet isn't habitable anymore.

And (for coal/oil/gas) it looks like the growth earned will be eaten up by the additional damages from climate change very soon. So that gain is limited.

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