Science - November 22, 2018

‘No need for nuclear power to achieve climate goals’

Tessa Louwerens

Should nuclear power make a comeback, as suggested by VVD party chair Klaas Dijkhoff in parliament this month? According to Niklas Höhne, special professor in Environmental Systems Analysis, nuclear power is too expensive and not flexible enough.

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Niklas Höhne, special professor in Environmental Systems Analysis
Niklas Höhne, special professor in Environmental Systems Analysis

Do we need nuclear power stations in order to achieve the climate goals?
No. We’ve got better and cheaper alternatives such as solar and wind energy. Now that the production of these installations is being upscaled, the costs are going down. Whereas the costs of nuclear power are going up because of problems of safety and of waste disposal. Renewable energy is cheaper and will enable us to achieve the climate goals faster. Nuclear power stations are enormous and it takes at least 10 years to plan and build them. Another disadvantage of nuclear power stations is that they must run at 100 per cent capacity to be efficient. What we are going to need in future is flexible energy systems, which are compatible with large amounts of variable, renewable energy.’

So where do the scenarios come from that are said to show that nuclear power is indispensable?  
‘They are based on models and if you give a model the option of nuclear power, it will take it. But there are other models too, which exclude the option of nuclear power. The model replaces nuclear power with something else and creates a comparable scenario using wind and solar energy. Those scenarios show that you can keep the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius without nuclear energy.’

So is it possible to get all our energy from renewable sources?
‘If all the houses in Europe had solar panels on their roofs, that would be enough to generate all the electricity we need. Wind energy is a bit trickier as there are some objections on sustainability grounds, when the turbines are close to a nature reserve or housing, for instance. When it comes to sustainability, I think there are far fewer objections to renewable energy that to nuclear energy. The latter produces waste that we’ll have on our hands for thousands of years.’

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