Despite its low emissions, nuclear energy is not a solution to climate change due to the serious inconveniences and dangers that it entails. Furthermore, the nuclear contribution to the world's energy consumption is too small, so its extension to the necessary levels would require exorbitant technical and economic efforts. For Ecologists in Action it is much more practical, safe and sensible to dedicate these efforts to the development of clean energy and electricity storage techniques, as well as to saving and efficiency measures.
Nuclear energy contributes approximately 4.4% of all energy consumed on the planet. Considering the average emissions of the energy system, they only contribute to avoiding 4.5% of greenhouse gases, which is a meager contribution taking into account the problems and dangers that this energy source entails (they avoid 14% of the GHG emission in electricity generation).
Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of radioactive waste of very low, low, medium and high activity that must be kept away from the biosphere so that ionizing radiation does not harm living beings. Although less abundant in volume, highly active ones are especially dangerous, as they are radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. The management of these substances involves great technical and logistical efforts and, often, in many countries of the world, is paid for by public money or fees paid by consumers. This has been the case in the European Union until 2005, when the Competition Council took action on the matter. Even so, the fee paid by the waste producers will not be enough to cover the total cost of the management.
In addition to the generation of waste, there is the problem of safety. The Fukushima accident once again brought to the forefront of the debate the risk posed by operating nuclear power plants. In the case of Fukushima, unresolved radioactive leaks increased the suffering caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
For nuclear energy to be a true alternative to climate change, it would have to substantially increase its participation in the energy mix, which, on the other hand, would imply the massive electrification of transport. Their contribution would have to be multiplied by a factor of 5 at least so that it could play a role and contribute approximately 20% of all energy. That would mean launching power plants around the world at full speed. According to the IAEA there are only 70 reactors under construction, which would be clearly insufficient, but this figure also includes all types of projects. In other words, less than a quarter of the plants needed to achieve this objective would be available.
The expansion of the nuclear park would mean multiplying the waste to be managed and increasing the risk of accident. But in addition, access to this source of energy by poorer and less democratically developed countries would imply a serious increase in insecurity due to the lack of democratic controls on companies by regulatory bodies, which would be necessary to create in those countries, and by civil society. According to the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) one of the causes of the Fukushima accident was the lack of independence of the Japanese Nuclear Security Agency, which prevented it from fully monitoring the situation at nuclear plants. It is not easy to imagine independent and firm regulatory bodies in countries without a democratic culture or a tradition of separation of powers, when we do not even have them in countries that boast democratic guarantees, such as Spain or Japan.
Furthermore, the advancement of nuclear technology in these countries may lead to the temptation to use dual-use nuclear technologies for the development of nuclear weapons, with the consequent increase in nuclear proliferation and global insecurity. We have the recent example of Iran that launched a program to enrich uranium by gas centrifugation: it is impossible to discern whether Iranian centrifuges are for making fuel or for making enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
The increase in nuclear power cannot be very fast, in any case, given that the construction time exceeds 10 years, even in the newest reactors under construction in Europe, those of Olkiluoto (Finland) and Flamanville (France). ). The cost of each of these reactors is three times what was budgeted and exceeds 9,000 million euros, which is another great difficulty in embarking on the nuclear adventure: where to get the enormous amount of financial resources needed, especially in the current situation of financial crisis and austerity policies. Although the costs per reactor did not exceed 4,500 million (half of the previous ones), we would be talking about an expense of 9 billion euros, which is around 13% of world GDP!
In addition, the plants consume uranium, a fuel that is not renewable. The world's reserves of cheap and easily extractable uranium are limited and would last a few decades at the current rate of consumption. An increase in the number of plants would force the opening of new mining operations, with the consequent impact on the environment and the health of nearby towns. The price of uranium would become more expensive and its reserves would be depleted much sooner.
Nuclear power plants poorly regulate their power, so they can hardly coexist in a massively renewable energy mix. For all these reasons, it is obvious that nuclear energy is not a solution to climate change. On the contrary, the nuclear bet would make it difficult to advance in solving the problem by withdrawing resources that should be devoted to renewables and making it difficult to implement the latter in a mix with a nuclear base.
Ecologists in Action