Question: Can we build enough nuclear power stations and will the nuclear industry turn them off when they are not needed?

Question mark #2I was intrigued to see your reference to nuclear power as a bridging technology to be deployed by 2020 and that by 2040 the world could be reliant on renewables. This would imply a pretty radical construction program, and a lifetime of 20 years.

I would be interested in hearing how many reactors you think can be up and running within your timeframe, and the resultant emissions offset. Also, given the industry worldwide is pushing for operating lifetime extensions to 40 to 60 years, I am not so sure that they will be interested in turning them off in 2040.

Shaun Burnie, 20 September 2009


Yes, we certainly need radical construction of all the low carbon options – renewables, CCS and nuclear. It is possible to get new nuclear stations constructed and operational by 2020, though not much before then. However, if we assume that, for example, the EU target of 20% of energy from renewables is met (as it must be), that still leaves 80% of energy from non-renewables – hence, the need for bridging technologies until we can get renewables to 100%. This would take at least another 20 years.

What would be the resultant emissions reductions? That obviously depends what it replaced. The UK Energy Research Centre published a report in 2006 stating that:

CCS fitted on conventional supercritical coal plant will have an overall emission of 50 – 90g CO2/kWh electricity (compared to 950g CO2/kWh without CCS); gas would be about 400gCO2/kWh without CCS. Comparable full-life-cycle evaluations, using the same analytical system, for wind are 25g CO2/kWh, photovoltaic 110g CO2/kWh, and nuclear 30 -120g CO2/kWh.


If we take the figure of 120g for nuclear, this is an emissions reduction of 87.4% compared to coal burnt without CCS.

Would the nuclear industry want to turn them off in 2040? Clearly not – they will certainly argue for life extensions. However, governments do have powers to close them down and, if enough renewable energy is harnessed by then, they could and should use them.

Stephen Tindale, 20 September 2009

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