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Posted by Anna Nicholls on 12-Apr-2022 19:40:54

Is nuclear power the answer to our energy crisis?

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As the UK looks towards nuclear power as a means of reducing dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices, we ask the question - why? And why is renewable not the answer?

It’s a controversial route to take, but the British government is expected to "bet big" on nuclear power, building up to eight stations across the UK. Clearly this will come at a cost - a cost that will inevitably be paid for by the end users. (The government claims household bills will increase by £12/year while the opposition cites an £84/year increase). So why? Why this push towards a potentially risky nuclear solution, rather than harnessing the cheaper, lower risk options such as wind or solar power?

According to some experts, renewables are expanding quickly, but not enough. After falling by about 1% in 2020 due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, global electricity demand is predicted to grow by 4% in 2022 – driven by the global economic recovery.* Electricity generation from renewables – hydropower, wind and solar – is on track to grow by more than 6% in 2022. But even with this strong growth, renewables will only be able to meet around half the projected increase in global electricity demand by the end of 2022. Because of the intermittent nature of solar and wind, back-up generating capacity is required. The government’s new proposal is that 25% of our energy will come from nuclear power - an increase from 16% currently, with renewable sources providing the remaining 75%.

While most of our electricity will come from wind and solar by 2050, we will always need these to be bolstered by stable low-carbon power - and nuclear power is both of those things. Nuclear power plants can produce very large amounts of very low-carbon energy, quickly. 

Is nuclear safe?
In the main, people are frightened of nuclear power. Chernobyl and Fukushima spring to the forefront of most people’s minds when they think of nuclear power. But as devastating as these incidents were, they are the only major accidents to have occurred in over 18,500 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 36 countries.** No industry is immune from accidents, but they learn from them. Evidence drawn over the last 60 years shows that nuclear power is a safe means of generating electricity with vast improvements in safety meaning that the risk of accidents in nuclear power plants is low and declining,** while the consequences of an accident or terrorist attack are minimal compared with other commonly accepted risks.

So is this combination of nuclear and renewable the answer? Well it’s clear that it certainly shouldn’t be ruled out. We simply cannot continue to burn fossil fuels, and while renewable supply fails to meet demand, nuclear offers a low carbon, cost effective replacement that ought to be explored. 

What are your thoughts on the UK government’s new proposals, and how do you feel about nuclear energy? Let us know in the comments.  

*According to the latest edition of the IEA’s semi-annual Electricity Market Report
** https://world-nuclear.org/

Topics: energy efficiency, carbon neutrality, nuclear power, energy crisis

Anna Nicholls

Written by Anna Nicholls

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