Nuclear power is often hailed as a magic bullet solution for the rapid and large-scale decarbonisation of our societies which we all know needs to happen if we have any hope of mitigating the worst effects of the unfolding climate emergency. Among politicians and industry groups, it is consistently favoured over meaningful investment in renewable energy systems, bolstered with misleading claims of its safety, efficiency, stability, and speed of deployment.
With the costs and efficiency of renewable energy solutions improving year on year, and the effects of our rapidly changing climate accelerating across the globe, we need to take an honest look at some of the myths being perpetuated by the nuclear industry and its supporters. Here are six reasons why nuclear power is not the way to a green and peaceful zero carbon future.
1. Nuclear energy delivers too little to matter
In order to tackle climate change, we need to reduce fossil fuels in the total energy mix well before 2050 to 0%.
According to scenarios from the World Nuclear Association and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (both nuclear lobby organisations), doubling the capacity of nuclear power worldwide in 2050 would only decrease greenhouse gas emissions by around 4%. But in order to do that, the world would need to bring 37 new large nuclear reactors to the grid every year from now, year on year, until 2050.
The last decade only showed a few to 10 new grid connections per year. Ramping that up to 37 is physically impossible – there is not sufficient capacity to make large forgings like reactor vessels. There are currently only 57 new reactors under construction or planned for the coming one-and-a-half decade. Doubling nuclear capacity – different from the explosive growth of clean renewable energy sources like solar and wind – is therefore unrealistic. And that for only 4% when we already need to reduce 100%.
2. Nuclear power plants are dangerous and vulnerable
Nuclear factories and plants are easy targets for malevolent acts: terrorist threats, the risk of unintentional or voluntary airliner crashes, cyberattacks or acts of war. The enclosures of plants and certain ancillary buildings containing radioactive materials are not designed to withstand this type of attack or shock.
Nuclear power plants present unique hazards in terms of the potential consequences resulting from a severe accident. Nuclear reactors and their associated high level spent fuel stores are vulnerable to natural disasters, as Fukushima Daiichi showed, but they are also vulnerable in times of military conflict.
For the first time in history, a major war is being waged in a country with multiple nuclear reactors and thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel. The war in southern Ukraine around Zaporizhzhia puts them all at heightened risk of a severe accident.
Nuclear power plants are some of the most complex and sensitive industrial installations, which require a very complex set of resources in ready state at all times to keep them operational. This cannot be guaranteed in a war.
This can’t be guaranteed in a time of climate crisis and extreme weather events either. Nuclear power is a water-hungry technology. Nuclear power plants consume a lot of water for cooling. They are vulnerable to water stress, the warming of rivers, and rising temperatures, which can weaken the cooling of power plants and equipment. Nuclear reactors in the United States and France are often shut down during heatwaves, or see their activity drastically slowed.
3. Nuclear energy is too expensive
To protect the climate, we must abate the most carbon at the least cost and in the least time.
The cost of generating solar power ranges from $36 to $44 per megawatt-hour (MWh), the World Nuclear Industry Status Report said, while onshore wind power comes in at $29–$56 per MWh. Nuclear energy costs between $112 and $189 per MWh.
Over the past decade, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report estimates levelised costs – which compare the total lifetime cost of building and running a plant to lifetime output – for utility-scale solar have dropped by 88% and for wind by 69%. According to the same report, these costs have increased by 23% for nuclear.*
According to a November 2021 study released by Greenpeace France and the Rousseau Institute, power from the under-construction European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) at Flamanville in France would be 3 times as expensive as the country’s most competitive renewable sources.
4. Nuclear energy is too slow
Stabilising the climate is an emergency. Nuclear power is slow.
The 2021 World Nuclear Industry Status Report estimates that since 2009 the average construction time for reactors worldwide was just under 10 years, well above the estimate given by the World Nuclear Association (WNA) industry body of between 5 and 8.5 years.
The extra time that nuclear plants take to build has major implications for climate goals, as existing fossil-fueled plants continue to emit CO2 while awaiting substitution. The construction of a nuclear plant is a long and complex process that obviously releases CO2, as does the demolition of decommissioned nuclear sites.
Uranium extraction, transport and processing is obviously not free of greenhouse gas emissions either. All in all, nuclear power stations score comparable with wind and solar energy. But this latter can be implemented much faster and on a much bigger scale. We cannot wait for another decade for emissions to go down. They need to go down now. With clean renewable sources and energy efficiency, we can do that.
5. Nuclear energy generates huge amounts of toxic waste
The multiple stages of the nuclear fuel cycle produce large volumes of radioactive waste. No government has yet resolved how to safely manage this waste.
Some of this nuclear waste is highly radioactive and will remain so for several thousand years. Nuclear waste is a real scourge for our environment and for future generations, who will still have the responsibility of managing it in several centuries.
Countries like France are pushing hard for nuclear power at the EU level, hoping that when it comes to waste, out of sight is out of mind. But nuclear waste will never go away, and will never be sustainable.
This is one of the obvious reasons why nuclear power shouldn’t be eligible for green funding nor marketed as ‘sustainable’, as pointed out recently by countries like Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, and Spain, who spoke against the inclusion of nuclear power in the EU’s green finance taxonomy. This is also one of the reasons why, on 9 March 2020, the EU Commission’s Technical Expert Group on Sustainable Finance (TEF) rejected nuclear energy because it did not meet the EU’s ‘Do No Significant Harm’ principle and recommended excluding nuclear power from the green taxonomy.
Nuclear waste management is costing taxpayers absurd amounts of money, costs for storage projects reaching into the billions. This is true both for Europe and North America. In 2019, a US Energy Department report showed the projected cost for long-term nuclear waste cleanup jumped more than $100 billion in just one year.
6. The nuclear industry is falling short of its promises
The EPR nuclear reactor technology has been showcased by the French government and French nuclear operator EDF as a revolutionary technology announcing the dawn of a nuclear renaissance. The reality is that this technology isn’t any kind of technological leap. More importantly, the French EPR reactor located in Flamanville is more than 10 years overdue and nearly four times over budget.
This so-called “next-generation nuclear reactor”, has also sustained multiple problems, delays and cost overruns in France, the United Kingdom, Finland and China.
Hypothetical new nuclear power technologies have been promised to be the next big thing for the last forty years, but in spite of massive public subsidies, that prospect has never panned out. That is also true for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
And for nuclear fusion, an idea that is as old as the nuclear industry, which somehow always seems to be fifty years away. The cost and uncertainty of fusion mean investing in thermonuclear reactors at the expense of other available clean energy options. This technology won’t arrive in time, if ever, and the money would be better invested elsewhere.
Let’s exert the utmost caution when presented with pro-nuclear opinions coming from experts and organisations regularly working with stakeholders from the nuclear sector and potentially tainted by vested interests. Nuclear energy has no place in a safe, clean, sustainable future. It is more important than ever that we steer away from false solutions and leave nuclear power in the past.
Mehdi Leman is a content editor for Greenpeace International based in France
I think it is correct , ban nuclear power!
i don't like nuclear energy
I notice that the proponents making comments here never discuss 2 facts about nuclear energy. They don't really make any points at all, just claims. Hear are a couple of actual facts, easily checked. Nuclear power plants are not profitable and the banks won't finance them, so they have to be publicly subsidized. Nuclear power plants are not safe, so they have to be to be publicly insured because insurance companies won't insure them.
Does anyone else notice that the image of the supposedly projected protest image onto the parliament building is blatantly photoshopped? You wrecked your credibility with that alone, disregarding the other erroneous reasoning within the article.
Amazing, literally every single point listed here is false. You would think they would get at least one right by accident lol. We all know the lies are intentional, why even try at this point. Nuclear is the only path forward until renewables are up to the task, which they currently are not even close. If fear-mongers like you had worked to making nuclear better and more accepted over the last 30 years instead of holding it back, we would already be carbon neutral.
Agreed, most of these claims are factually untrue. - The article discusses the cost of megawatts per hour relative to solar and wind, but does that take into account that a reactor can output energy 365 days a year, 24/7. The average output of solar and wind farms are dependent on things like... sunshine... and wind. Not to mention the lifespan of wind turbines and solar are limited and susceptible to wear. There's currently more waste from these modes of production than nuclear waste. Solar and wind are not a viable option for many corners of the world. Granted, neither is nuclear. - As of 2021, the average time to build a new nuclear plant is 7.3 years. Using newer designs, this should drop even further in the coming decade. - It's crystal clear that the world's richest nations need to rapidly expand the production of nuclear energy, in addition to alternative green sources of production.
Anti, Pro, always an all-or-nothing stance and always striving to demonize the other options rather than provide current, factual information about the good, the bad and the costs of all options. Special interests will always value their own interests over the future of humanity.
Thanks for pointing it out, i was reading it and I could not believe that a reputable organisation would want to promote such blatant lies.
Probably a Russian disinformation propaganda author, so that we keep using Russian gas.
Green technology won't save the world. The only solution to rising emissions is either to kill rich people, or to have a global world war that kills over half the population. China tried with COVID and almost got us there. Rich people like Leonardo DiCrappio are just hypocrites. We as humanity must accept that emissions will continue to rise. Or over half of us must die. We live on a carbon planet. So we must acknowledge our fate.
its not that deep bro
Green Piece has ruined what could have been by now a carbon neutral in developed countries. And helping developing countries to do the same. For all evil you guys have done, I wish you never existed. Disbanding now to clear the way would be helpful, don't see you as a force for progress.
Too bad the nearly every serious scientist disagrees with you guys on this subject, as with GGO's. Science will prevail over this sad pseudoscience ideology in the long run.
Dear Greenpeace, Very sadly despite all your efforts, you have made a terrible mistake and continue to make this mistake. You have steadfastly opposed the protection of the Earth's atmosphere and continue to do so. Climate change would not exist today if the world had built nuclear power plants instead of coal-fired power plants and gas-fired power plants. Greenpeace and others opposed nuclear, and now for firm energy we have gas and coal. This was a terrible mistake as you can tell by the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. And I see that the mistake is ongoing. Don't write back to me please, I have no interest in anti-nuclear madness or wishful thinking about topics Greenpeace knows little about, such as electricity. But I urge Greenpeace to be humble and apologise for the grave harm they have contributed to on this planet in opposing the main load-following, 24/7/365 solution to decarbonisation. At the very least Greenpeace should stop opposing all decarbonisation solutions, immediately. Wake up and see, the CO2 is going up, the Earth is getting hotter. We need every solution we can get, even if it means saying sorry and/or being honest about past mistakes. Sarah
The Stable Salt Reactor designed by Moltex will burn up the world's existing nuclear waste turning it into a much safer form. It costs about one third of the cost of a coal power station to build and is cheaper to run than coal or gas. It is inherently safe; serious accidents simply aren't possible with this type of reactor because the reactor doesn't produce radioactive gases and it controls its reactivity by natural processes. There are no operators controlling the reactor it is simply the physics that prevents it overheating. Even a missile attack would not cause a serious pollution problem. In getting rid of the UK's existing waste this type of reactor could generate 100% of the UK's electricity needs for over 100 years. The UK should start to build these reactors as soon as possible.
correct foolish mortals
Form of energy with the lowest emission of C02 (complete life-cycle so construction discussion are included). Most secure form of energy apart from solar (the differences between the two are irrelevant ). Nuclear is not an inconstant one like solar or windy that don't work in a cloudy not windy day. Want a more concrete evidence? Whatch what happened to Germany after it left nuclear,Co2 emissions are going up. Everything else are irrelevant things or lies. No renuable energy are not enough. Sorry for my english
If you think solar is worthwhile you clearly have no idea what you're talking about and your opinion is irrelevant.
can I see your research?
This article is bullshit. Germany is destroying forests to extract chaircoil after closing their nuclear plants. We might be green, but not stulid.
He literally just asked "wassup" lol chill
i don't like nuclear energy
What do you suggest we do to take down the reactors? They will only get replaced by coal powerplants and that is clearly what we are trying to avoid.
This is laughable. Apart from the out-dated informations I find one thing hilarious. People like this spent decades jeopardizing the entire nuclear industry and now they are pointing out that we do not build enough reactors and that the energy is expensive. If we had put all the money to nuclear instead of renewables the energy would be cheap and there would be enough reactors. And really? This risk of an attack or accident is high? Just laughable.
I found this video very interesting and it touches a lot of points you make. It's by a youtube group that backs up all its videos with tons of cited research. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhAemz1v7dQ
You are right about the conclusion of nuclear energy.
For someone that is realistic about climate change and decreasing carbon footprint this article is damaging and misinforming to the general public. Wind and solar etc develop now where near enough energy. There is no such thing as a free lunch and you can’t have it both ways. If you want to generate the electricity without the carbon footprint then this is the only way. I have spent considerable time looking at the figures. This won’t help the general public who won’t understand that wind, solar and other carbon neutral just won’t cut it.
This article has some outdated and biased information. First of all, thorium-based, thermal spectrum molten salt reactors resolve a lot of the issues that are being claimed as unacceptable risks with nuclear power. 1) The mining of fuel used for continuous operation presents NO proliferation risk or an attractive target for terrorists. Thorium is completely useless to terrorists because it is not fissile and not radioactive enough to be a major acute health risk. 2) Thermal-spectrum thorium molten salt reactors themselves confer a significantly reduced proliferation risk because they reduce the amount excess fissile material that is produced, and the Uranium-233 that is produced inside the reactor (which is the isotope that provides the energy from fission) is tainted with Uranium-232, the decay products of which produce gamma radiation that makes it difficult to handle outside of the controlled environment of the reactor. 3) In contrast to the current light water reactors that seem to be the basis for a lot of the concerns expressed in this article, molten salt reactors can burn almost all of the fuel put into them, massively reducing the waste stream. Furthermore, the small amount of waste that is produced is only radioactive above background levels for a few hundred years instead of a few thousand. 4) Molten salt reactors are easily designed to be "walk-away safe" (passively safe). If the reactor overheats, the reactors can be designed in such a way that a so-called "freeze-plug" is melted, and the reactor fuel is drained into a storage tank. Without the presence of the graphite moderator of the reactor core, neutrons are lost, and the nuclear reaction stops. 5) In molten salt reactors, the fuel is the coolant. There is no pressurized water that can spontaneously vaporize (and explode), and the reactors can be operated at close to ambient pressure, meaning that containment issues are much less of a problem and reactors can be placed essentially anywhere (don't need a large body of water nearby). 6) Because large containment structures are not needed, reactor facilities can be much smaller volumetrically and can be built essentially as bunkers to withstand malicious attacks such as airplane or missile strikes. There are even more advantages over current nuclear technology, too, but I want to address the information in this article that was biased in such a way that it glossed over the drawbacks with renewables: 1) Due to the amount of space required for "renewable" energy infrastructure to provide the same amount of power output as, say, nuclear, environmental encroachment is exacerbated by the use of renewables. The amount of construction material is also greatly increased, increasing the conventional waste and damage due to acquiring the materials to build wind turbines, solar panels, etc... 2) Renewables are not exempt from hazardous waste. Composite manufacturing processes (used to build wind turbine blades for instance) use some pretty nasty chemicals. I don't know much about photovoltaic manufacturing, but I'm sure there are some not-so-nice aspects to these manufacturing processes, too. I could go at exhaustive length about how a lot of the information presented in this article is either inaccurate, outdated, or biased, but I think this is enough for a comment. If you really care about producing the most amount of energy with the least amount of environmental damage, the least dangerous waste, and the most safety, I would strongly encourage people here to go down the rabbit hole on thorium molten salt reactor technology and see the benefits it confers over both current nuclear power plants and "green" energy sources. If you truly weigh the costs and the benefits in a fair way, I think you'll see that there is much reason to put money and interest in nuclear technology... in combination with renewables where they work the best.
The main problem with Nuclear is the waste. We will have an similar problem by moving to all electric vehicles with millions of lithium batteries to deal with. While some parts can be recycled, not all can be and there is some nasty dangerous waste. We need to be investing in hydrogen fueled vehicles, not batteries.
Hi Fred, if you care about producing the most amount of energy with the least waste and environmental damage, I would encourage you to look into thorium molten salt reactors. They have a lot of advantages over conventional light water nuclear reactors, including greatly reduced and much-less-long-lived radioactive waste. Also consider that with the volume of manufacturing required, renewable energy technologies produce waste, some of which is chemically toxic. Anyway, a lot of the problems with nuclear technology presented in this article just aren't relevant for thorium molten salt reactors, are overblown, or ignore the waste streams and environmental damage from renewable energies. Don't take my word for it, though. There is a lot of information out there, and if you keep a level, analytical head about this, I think you'll find that the benefit-to-cost ratio of newer nuclear technologies is actually pretty, if not really, good.
The main problem with thorium-only U-233-breeder MSRs is that they are not here yet, and need significantly more work and investment, while we know how to build MSRs that can burn a mix of fuels including thorium, plutonium, u-238, all of the minor actinides and other radionasties we'd like to not leave laying around for the next few million years. We could be building and testing prototypes, and have safe, proliferation-resistant, waste burning molten-chloride fast reactors on-line this decade, if the NRC would help instead of hinder, but their entire institutional culture would have to change, along with their procedures. Another problem with the pure thorium "LFTR" pathway is that we may not need it. There are several entities exploring promising avenues to safe, clean, aneutronic fusion with direct energy conversion, that again hope to be on line this decade, and less expensive than anything we can do with fission. We may not actually need fission long enough to burn up the most dangerous of our 80,000 tons (US) of "spent" reactor fuel, the goal that makes fission acceptable to me. Thorium is far less dangerous than "SRF." I'm not concerned with leaving it for the future to deal with.
If you believe that everyone has an equal right to energy and you also believe that fossil fuel use needs to be reduced then Stanford University provided the answer to power the world through wind, water and solar power.
The "Inconvenient Truth" was the Stanford paper was inequitable and did not account for an improvement in living standards and more access to electricity for non-OECD countries. The numbers don't add up, if we factor in greater access to energy for all - then nuclear is going to be an essential part of the mix in the coming century.
Food for thought, 6.5 million people die annually from air pollution - how are we going to help these people when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing? We need to look beyond a convenient for wealthy countries with amply electricity.
So are solar, wind and other junk actually renewable considering they need to be replaced every 5 years since they break these forms of energy have an appalling efficiency rate solar works less than 50% of the time since there's this thing called night and also clouds these methods aren't green since they harm the local habitats far more than nuclear and to get the same energy output as a nuclear power plant would take just as long to make and would be just as expensive not even accounting for the fact that solar, wind break so quickly also making these things are hardly green since they are made of non recyclable materials and limited resources trying to say that this is a solution is ridiculous: 1) Share it, 2) store it, 3) shift it. Share it: several countries built undersea cables called interconnectors allowing them to share renewable energy with other countries and there are plenty more on the way. - nuclear can do this as well so these other energy sources are pointless
Store it: new developments in battery storage mean renewable energy can be used even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining. - batteries loose most of their storage capabilities within a few months. Other storage options suggested are supper expensive so even more cost to try to make these energy sources reliable
Shift it: Demand Side Response is already happening in many places (turn down or turn off non-essential processes at times of peak demand helping the grid to balance supply and demand without the need for additional generation (e.g. power stations) to be used). - not everything is even going to be able to work apparently if everyone converts since 'renewable' energy isn't going to be anywhere close to meeting energy demands
We need a safer, cheaper, and faster solution that won’t be a threat to us and the future generations to come. Renewable Energy sources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, ocean, and biomass) are sustainable and nonpolluting which makes it ideal. - so renewable energy sources aren't going to be any faster or cheaper. we've had as long as it took France to go nuclear to make 'renewable energy sources' but no ones even close And how are they safer? they harm the climate far more in production and maintenance than nuclear. By the time enough is made, the carbon output required to make them is going to ruin the planet long before. Russian troops took over the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station, demonstrates the extreme dangers associated with the operation, control and maintenance of these power stations. - sorry what, you just took some completely unrelated thing and just tried to say that nuclear energy is bad. How does a dictator invading a country have anything to do with this? this whole renewable energy climate change thing is just a subtle way of turning everyone into a bunch of anarchist morons who care more about trying to gain power than the climate: I am ready to protest, to msrch, to add my voice against these most dangerous proposals. This is of utmost importance and poses a terrible danger to our country.
I believed as you do, that nuclear energy is irredeemably dangerous and dirty, when I was a volunteer in the little Greenpeace office in Eugene, Oregon 40 years ago, and as recently as perhaps five years back. But I try to maintain the scientific headspace, an open mind: I believe what I believe rather strongly, but if you bombard me with overwhelming evidence that doesn’t try to refute the laws of physics, you can change my mind.
I will still get in the way, physically, if I must, of anyone trying to build a new pressurized water nuke anywhere near my part of the world. The basic physics of PWRs makes them dangerous, and they create wastes that will be radioactive not for the 240,000 years you often read, but for tens of millions of years. But several new kinds of fourth generation reactors look much safer, and molten salt reactors in particular look walkaway-safe and virtually idiot-proof. And the right reactors can burn wastes instead of producing them.
A MSR cannot melt down: the fuel and coolant salts are already molten. They are just barely molten, at half their vaporization temperature, and the radionuclides are dissolved in, chemically bound to, the coolant salts, so very little radionasty could escape to atmosphere should they spill; MSRs produce small amounts of several radioactive gasses, but they are removed every time the coolant salts circulate, so the amount lost in a spill would be trivial. A spill freezes on contact with anything cooler; easy to clean up. They self-regulate: too hot, and the fuel salts expand, moving the reactants farther apart and slowing the reaction; cooling the salts brings the reactants closer together, bringing the reactor back up to its optimum temperature and output. Most designs can cool themselves by convection; their pumps are only needed to move the cooling salts to the heat exchangers. Some designs drain their coolant/fuel salts down, by gravity, into safe storage tanks that cannot sustain a reaction should the reactor somehow overheat. You could literally pull the plug and walk away.
MSRs operate at garden-hose pressures—no possibility of a steam explosion; and without zirconium-clad fuel rods or the possibility of steam in the reactor vessel, there’s no chemical reaction that can produce explosive hydrogen. Yet they run at supercritical temperatures, up to twice as hot as a PWR, and so more efficient, so you need less plant for the same output. That, passive safety and mass production will make them cost much less. Make them small enough to mass produce; get one design (at a time) approved by the obstructionist Nuclear Regulatory Commission, instead of letting them take years to approve each and every one-off plant; make that design on an assembly line, and truck/rail them to the site. Assemble a few components, fuel the reactor, and you’re producing power. And the right size reactor—or a few smaller ones—could replace the boiler in a coal-fired power plant, saving the rest of that expensive, high-embodied carbon infrastructure and bringing coal off-line that much faster.
MSRs should need much less cooling water than PWRs, and they can recycle it, which is good: salts are water soluble, so you’d want to keep MSRs away from rivers in case of any possible spill.
Meanwhile ThorCon is building a prototype “ThorCon Isle” molten salt reactor power plant on a barge in Indonesia; they think they can use the world’s excess shipbuilding capacity to build 100 complete power plants a year, to head off coal in the developing world, and they think they can produce power for 3.7 cents per kWh, competitive with coal. I’d rather they were using a more advanced reactor, a waste burner, than the original Oak Ridge National Laboratory MSRE design, but one thing at a time.
One of my objections to nuclear power was/is uranium mining and its attendant environmental destruction and pollution, often on native lands or lands that should be wilderness. Another objection was the wastes created, which would need safe storage far longer than Homo “sapiens” has been human. But fast (neutron) reactors should burn high-level wastes (the 96 percent of uranium fuel wasted in PWRs, and all of the transuranics created) and one developer, Elysium Industries, has a simple, inexpensive, two-stage chemical process to dissolve spent fuel (and depleted uranium, unprocessed U-238, plutonium, thorium and U-233, transuranic minor actinides—all of the radionasties we want to burn up) into coolant salts. Their Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor (which avoids nuclear weapons/NRC regulations concerns with lithium-based salts) should leave nothing but gasses that are radioactive for about ten years, then valuable and useful: and solid wastes reduced in volume about tenfold, that are radioactive for about 300 years, instead of millions. That seals the deal for me: reliable, carbon-free, safe baseload power that burns up our high level radioactive wastes instead of leaving them for the great, great … great great grandkids to deal with? Hellyeah.
You need some fissiles enriched to about 20 percent to fuel a “fast” reactor at start-up; downblended (bomb grade is 90 percent plus) U-235, U-233, and plutonium from disassembled nuclear weapons is perfect, so we need never dig up another Native American Reservation for uranium. We have 80,000 tons of high level wastes stockpiled in the U.S., 300,000 tons around the world. That’s enough (U.S. alone) for 533 reactors for 100 years at 1.5 tons consumed per reactor per year, enough to supplement renewables until fusion comes on line.
Despite your dismissal of fusion (and I don’t think much of the Tokamak) there are a couple of very promising “aneutronic”—none of the pesky high-speed neutrons that poison the deuterium-tritium reaction—designs being developed right now. And General Fusion is even now building a demonstration Magnetized Target “Gobsmacker” fusion reactor in England, and has contracted with H2 Green Steel to build a reactor to power the hydrogen-reduction carbon-free steel mill H2 is building in Sweden, along with the local district heating grid.
We should do all we can with with wind, solar, tidal (without messing up fish runs) and wave power, and especially geothermal; plasma drills being tested right now by MIT spinoff Quaise, and by PLASMABITS, promise to drill as deep as 20 kilometers, in as little as 100 days, to rock hot enough to run a geothermal power plant at supercritical temperatures, which will more than double geothermal’s efficiency. Biomass with carbon capture and storage done right could clean up the overgrowth in our forests before they immolate us, could replace some fossil fuels with carbon-neutral bio fuels and chemicals, and could leave us with lots of char to improve soils and sequester atmospheric carbon at the same time. But wind and solar by themselves would depend upon lots and lots of energy storage, and the batteries, mostly still lithium-ions, being used for this are expensive, are burning up a rare strategic material, and use conflict materials, particularly cobalt. Better batteries and other storage tech is here or near. But enough excess solar/wind capacity to generate a surplus to store, and in particular the technology to store enough for several days, is going to be expensive; I pay attention, and there are weeks on end, in the U.S. in winter, when there is very little sun and too much wind. I don’t believe that the amount of energy storage we’d need to run society on wind and solar is realistic.
American, Canadian, Swedish, Finnish, Austrian, and trans-European entities are all working to bring clean, carbon-neutral steel and aluminum on line this decade, 2026-ish, and together those industries are about 11 percent of climate change (steel alone is 9 percent), so that’s huge. They use electricity instead of coal, and the waste is either pure oxygen, or water. But they’re going to need lots of power, and the way to do this is to size a clean steel mill or a Tesla megafactory around a small modular molten salt reactor. That way, for one thing, they’re neither dependent nor a burden on the grid.
I would much rather humans had never learned to split atoms, but that evil Djinn is already out of the bottle. Your information is several years out of date: I urge you to take a fresh, deep, unbiased look at the state of the art in both fission and fusion. The right reactors and fuels relieve my concerns with nuclear power. I think they might yours, too.
Hi John, I was right there with you until the very end when you said "I would much rather humans had never learned to split atoms". Until that point, I thought your analysis was extremely lucid and poignant. Perhaps you meant that more rhetorically, so apologies if that is the case, but the splitting of the atom was always a natural consequence of scientific pursuit. There is no version of history where we can discuss these issues over the internet where nuclear physics had not been discovered and exploited for good or for ill. It seems you agree with me, though, that we should pursue molten salt reactor technology to use it for good. Personally, I'm favorable to using a combination of breeders and burners, breeders to create nuclear fuel for sustained reactions and burners to eliminate nuclear waste and old weaponry.
I'd rather we'd never learned to burn coal, gas, or oil, too, but I suppose that was also inevitable. As I said, General Fusion is building a demonstration magnetized target fusion reactor right now, Helion and TAE think they will be on line this decade, and I hope that Lawrenceville Plasma Physics can make the Dense Plasma Focus work as a fusion reactor, because I have a little money invested in them, and because if they can give the world 5 MW in a 6-foot sphere for half a million dollars, $5,000 a year for fuel, problem solved. We will only need fission for a short time: before we abandon that tech entirely, I would like to see us burn up our "spent" reactor fuel high-level waste problem, instead of leaving it for the next umpteen generations of kiddos. Yes, we will need some kind of breeders--maybe travelling wave reactors? Sodium scares me--to breed HALEU to start-up waste-burning molten-salt fast reactors, until they build up enough fissiles in the core to keep themselves running: burners do some breeding, and apparently molten chloride fast reactors can keep themselves fed on anything fissionable/fertile. There is supposed to be a fast neutron reactor that can start up on 3 to 5 percent enriched uranium. I haven't had tome to research it yet.
Wow, incredibly insightful. As a high school student from Melbourne, I have to admit your insight is incredibly wonderful, and although I'm a nuclear fanatic, I do understand the flaws of nuclear entirely. Still, I believe like you that with enough advancements, we can absolutely maximise the potential of nuclear energy to minimise the wastage and nuclear toxicity.
You guys should bein the solar business!
I love solar. If we use it right we will get a lot out of it. But it takes a tremendous amount of resources, some of which are scarce, or expensive, or conflict materials. In her TED Talk, “The Blind Spots Of The Green Energy Transition,” international security/conflict resolution specialist and Carnegie Europe fellow Olivia Lazard points out that while we absolutely need renewables, being diffuse sources of energy, solar and wind require vast land area and materials to harvest. That will mean a massive increase in mining and materials processing. That in turn will almost certainly lead to conflict, corruption and environmental degradation in and over the countries with the natural resources, while China is deliberately working to dominate extraction, production and sales. E.g., Lazard said, the EU is 98 percent reliant on China for rare earths. The US gets most of its rare earths from China, too. Bad Idea to be dependent upon geopolitical enemies for anything important. Lazard warned against the weaponization of supply chains, in a time of international instability and climate breakdown, and that the developed world is already compromising the human rights of the less developed to supply those materials, e.g., conflict materials like cobalt. I wish we could do it all with renewables, but if you look at it logically and do a little math, it's not going to happen, and we wouldn't like the unintended consequences if it did.
Greta Thunberg has 6 nuclear reactors in her country and she is a member of Greenpeace. What a hypocrite. Why should we listen to you?
Gretta Thunberg is responsible for her country's energy mix!? What are you using for ogic circuitry? Vacuum tubes?
Greta Thunberg was not the one who built those nuclear reactors...
Please stop spreading incorrect news on nuclear. Clearly, there is a bias and lack of research.
Hello Karthik and thank you for your comment! This article is citing numerous sources. Feel free to do the same and suggest other sources, facts and figures you would to highlight. And let us know which specific part of this article you consider "incorrect news". Thank you.
Speaking of sources, the three-sentence paragraph where you discuss fusion cites a single source —a newsletter discussing its pros and cons— and is apparently based on statements from two individuals. Jan Haverkamp, a non-scientist Greenpeace spokesperson who said: “The running gag is that nuclear fusion is always fifty years away,” and Rasmus Andresen, a non-scientist German politician. If in an effort to make your point, you find you must use a colleague as an undisclosed source, perhaps your primary argument could be based on something more substantial than what that colleague characterized as a “running gag”. The last two sentences of your fusion paragraph rephrase statements made by the German politician, whose arguments on how to better allocate green energy research funds away from the ITER fusion project were no more than an unqualified opinion. I won’t pretend to know why your writing was so dismissive of fusion research. Omitting information about fusion’s potential benefits lends a one-sided feel to what you’ve written, undermining your credibility and that of the organization for which you write.
Hi Mehdi, I won't go into great detail, but one of the problems with this article is that the bases for concern are based on a very specific reactor technology, namely the light water (solid-fueled) reactors. These are in fact the most common (or almost exclusive) reactor type out there currently, but there are nuclear reactor designs (that have been tested and proven to work) that either eliminate or massively reduce the drawbacks that are given in this article. Thorium molten salt reactors really could be a "godsend" if we put resources into developing this technology to maturity. There are a lot of sources out there that you can find to address many of your concerns, but I think you first need to accept that renewables produce waste, some dangerous, before you can really weigh these things fairly. Kirk Sorensen is a very vocal and articulate advocate for thorium MSRs, but there are less vested sources as well if you want analyses from people who have not hitched their economic wagon to that horse, so to speak.
Hi, just because you link to sources that say the things you copy and pasted into your article, you make distort the facts to fit your narrative. Your first point of there only being 10 new grid connections per year for the last 10 years ignores the bear market the uranium price was in after the Fukishima incident (which by the way, caused no deaths or health effects due to the meltdown), so no new mines were developed, and the existing uranium inventory in the world was drawn down to where we are today. Why would new nuclear reactors come online during this time? You say that ramping up to 37 reactors a year would be impossible, yet China is planning on building 150 new reactors over the next 15 years. If the rest of the world embraced nuclear in conjuction with renewables, hitting or exceeding 37 reactors a year is not unreasonable.
Also, not doing things because they take a while to accomplish is laughable. Just because it takes time to build new reactors doesn't mean we shouldn't do that, otherwise in 10 years we will be in the same place we currently are, just without an electricity generating source.
What are you qualifications for writing articles like this? Do you have any scientific background or schooling? This article reads like you Googled why nuclear is bad and copy and pasted the information from a 10 year old Greenpeace article.
Nowhere in this ridiculous list do you mention problems with the intermittency of renewables. Where do we turn to when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing? Battery storage does not have without its challenges in mining and waste as well.
Hello Nick and thank you for your comment.
A good mix of renewable energy can do the job, even when the wind isn't blowing. 1) Share it, 2) store it, 3) shift it.
Share it: several countries built undersea cables called interconnectors allowing them to share renewable energy with other countries and there are plenty more on the way.
Store it: new developments in battery storage mean renewable energy can be used even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining. You are right about the social and environmental impact: the battery industry must deliver on the promises of the Global Battery Alliance to accelerate action towards a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable supply chain to power the energy revolution.
It's a good thing batteries are not the only way to store power, there are all sorts of other systems in the works (Compressed Air Energy Storage, Thermal Storage, Pumped Hydro Storage, Hydrogen Storage, etc).
Shift it: Demand Side Response is already happening in many places (turn down or turn off non-essential processes at times of peak demand helping the grid to balance supply and demand without the need for additional generation (e.g. power stations) to be used).
Please can you send to me a french version for Québec, Canada. Thank you so much for your such important mobilisation against consituing to developp and use nuclear energy. Oka, Québec, Canada.
Can we please knock off the moral Puritanism? Every scientific group of merit ranging from the IPCC to the Union of Concerned Scientists has acknowledged that a climate change solution without nuclear power is drastically more difficult. Nuclear may not be perfect, but we need every clean energy system. If we go farther down the denial rabbit hole, we might as well start reading infowars.
Hi Tim, I lean strongly in favor of nuclear energy, but conventional reactor designs do have some big problems with them. Perhaps you already know about this, but molten salt reactors, particularly thorium MSRs, solve or massively reduce a lot of the issues with nuclear energy that can't be glossed over if you are giving nuclear a fair analysis. If you are unaware of molten salt reactor technologies, I would encourage you to go down the rabbit hole, and I think you will perhaps see the sense in phasing out conventional pressurized water reactor designs in favor of MSRs.
This article somehow misses the most important thing about nuclear and why it is a key element of the energy transition: It is a carbon free, constant and syncronous energy source capable of providing baseload energy demand and stabilizing electricity grids. From the arguments raised, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding or disregard of how energy systems work; from generation to transimission, distribution, and consumption. That said, I agree with points on time constraints and nuclear's slow building times. They may also be future enemy targets, but I doubt anyone really wants a nuclear war...
Nuclear's slow building times will become a non-problem when the obstructionist NRC is forced to certify a few reactor designs small enough to be mass-produced, trucked in a few pieces to the site, and assembled: the US army thinks it can have one helium-cooled reactor up and running from parts on trucks in three days.
We need a safer, cheaper, and faster solution that won’t be a threat to us and the future generations to come. Renewable Energy sources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, ocean, and biomass) are sustainable and nonpolluting which makes it ideal. Why go for risky and dangerous ones when there’s already a safer alternative solution. Take note that we are in a climate emergency and we need rapid decarbonization - a mass shift to RE can help address that. Future generations are counting on us to save the planet.
Renewable energy technologies are NOT non-polluting. This is a massive misconception that really needs to be stamped out. In addition to manufacturing processes producing waste, these technologies take up WAY more space that could be natural habitat than any kind of nuclear reactor, much less newer ones with superior designs to the conventional pressurized water reactors.
Unless you're an energy engineer you don't understand the technical complexities of intermittent power such as solar and wind. Hydro, geothermal, biomass, ocean is not always readily available to all geographical areas. All of these technologies have very low capacity factor whilst simultaneously require a large area to build. Hardest thing to control within the energy system is balancing the supply and load. Solar and wind are very hard to control and balance, plus the low capacity factor (solar is around 20% versus wind 30%) literally makes this very technically inefficient to build and operate. On the other hand, nuclear power has very high capacity factor (often more than 90%), can be ramped up and down as needed to match the load, does not take up a huge amount of space, energy dense (means you use less fuel while still produce a lot of energy), which to the grid operators make a lot more sense technically. Yes there are other issues regarding waste disposal, disaster and security threats.
Hi, EnergySpecialist, I'm probably preaching to the choir or even my "better" in this particular subject area, but your last sentence had one thing I took issue with. Molten salt reactors have the potential to virtually eliminate the threat of "disasters" (I assume you mean natural or technical), and they massively reduce the problems of waste disposal and security threats. If you are not highly aware of these technologies, particularly the thorium variety, I would strongly encourage you to venture down that rabbit hole.
hydro is dangerous compared to nuclear. and they are still better than coal.
So what do you propose?
I totally agree with this article and the points it puts forward about ‘ why nuclear power is not the way forward’. Also, the incident we just witnessed during the Russian attack on Ukraine when the Russian troops took over the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station, demonstrates the extreme dangers associated with the operation, control and maintenance of these power stations.
The prospect of generating more toxic nuclear waste from the 7 new nuclear power stations Boris Johnson is proposing, is totally unfeasible, when we have no method of disposing of the waste or storing it for hundreds of years. We cannot even deal with our plastic waste and have been shipping it to 3rd world countries. Containers of nuclear waste already lie rusting & deteriorating on the seabed and on land. I imagine this government, given their past history, might apply the same principles and decide to ship the nuclear waste irresponsibly to poor countries or dump it in the sea.
I am ready to protest, to msrch, to add my voice against these most dangerous proposals. This is of utmost importance and poses a terrible danger to our country.
All of these problems go away if we move from first and second generation reactors to fourth gen, and if we emphasize fast neutron reactors, we can burn up current wastes, clean up our mess, instead of creating new ones. Your view of nuclear fission tech is years out of date. Please! Catch up!
Two words: France. Sweden. Now please explain exactly how it is that nuclear is not an option. The only countries to reverse fossil fuel dependent electric grids (France 70% nuclear and Sweden split mostly between hydro and nuclear) are these two... And they did it 50 years ago.
Hi have nuclear waste my husband brought to are farm