To save the planet, we must ignore anti-nuclear ideologues

To save the planet, we must ignore anti-nuclear ideologues


The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Jul. 20, 2017 5:01PM EDT

Last updated Thursday, Jul. 20, 2017 5:44PM EDT


There might be a way for the world to meet its carbon-reduction targets that does not involve building more nuclear power plants. The problem is, no one has come up with one. Until that happens, politicians need to get real about nuclear energy’s essential role in saving the planet.

Unfortunately, most of them still have their heads stuck in their solar panels.

The latest greener-than-thou politician to make the perfect the enemy of the good is France’s awkwardly titled Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Nicolas Hulot. This month, Mr. Hulot announced the shutdown of as many as 17 of France’s 58 nuclear reactors over the next eight years as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to cut his country’s reliance on nuclear-generated electricity to 50 per cent from 75 per cent by 2025.

Mr. Hulot says he has “absolute faith” in renewable power sources, mainly wind and solar energy, to fill the gap. But as Germany shows, closing emissions-free nuclear power plants, more often than not, leads to burning more fossil fuels to produce power. That’s because wind and solar remain intermittent power sources, while nuclear, coal and natural gas plants can run full-steam 24/7.

In a report last month, the International Energy Agency said “premature closure of operational nuclear power plants remains a major threat to meeting targets,” set under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, to prevent global temperatures from rising more than two degrees above preindustrial levels by the end of the century.

But don’t try telling that to Mr. Hulot. A former star television journalist tapped by Mr. Macron to boost his credibility with environmentalists, Mr. Hulot is France’s version of David Suzuki. In 2012, he sought the presidential nomination for France’s anti-nuclear Green Party. He appears unmoved by expert warnings that France will pay a heavy environmental and economic price if he sticks to his nuclear-reduction plan.

France has long been at the forefront of nuclear research and its nuclear industry, led by state-owned Areva and Électricité de France, is a global leader. But just as some Canadian ideologues want to shut down the oil sands, France’s green ideologues want to shut the country’s reactors.

This promises to be hugely expensive and, ironically, make it much harder for France to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets under the Paris climate agreement. Wind and solar are unreliable power sources, so “we are obligated to have something else to take over” from nuclear, French climate scientist François-Marie Bréon told Agence France-Presse following Mr. Hulot’s announcement. That “something else” is inevitably fossil-fuel-generated electricity.

The French paradox is being repeated across Europe, where Germany, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland have committed to phasing out nuclear power. This will not only prevent the closing of the continent’s coal plants, it will also increase Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, making Vladimir Putin even more powerful than he is now.

In the United States, nuclear power is up against not only opposition from environmentalists but also against fierce lobbying by the powerful American Petroleum Institute. Without a carbon tax, cheap natural gas has hurt the competitiveness of existing nuclear plants. The API, which represents natural-gas producers, seeks to quash the financial incentives that some states provide to enable existing nuclear plants to stay open. Wind and solar power are heavily subsidized. So, the reasoning goes, why shouldn’t emissions-free nuclear power plants be similarly rewarded?

Keeping existing nuclear power plants open is only half the battle. The world needs more nuclear. China and India are adding nuclear power capacity but not fast enough to replace plants being closed in the developed world. Even Britain’s Hinkley nuclear station, set to open in 2026, won’t make up for British capacity reductions before then.

The IEA projects that nuclear capacity additions of 20 gigawatts annually are needed to meet the Paris accord targets by the year 2100, but the world is far off the mark. Nuclear “retirements due to phase-out policies in some countries, long-term operation limitations in others, or loss of competitiveness against other technologies” mean that as much as 50 GW of nuclear capacity could be lost by 2025 alone. Politicians who cave to the anti-nuclear lobby are deluding themselves or misleading voters when they insist wind and solar can make up the difference.

“Increasing nuclear capacity deployment could help bridge the [two-degree scenario] gap and fulfill the recognized potential of nuclear energy to contribute significantly to global decarbonization,” the IEA report said. It called for “clear and consistent policy support for existing and new capacity, including clean-energy incentive schemes for development of nuclear alongside other clean forms of energy.”

Vous écoutez, Monsieur Hulot?




About prosperitysaskatchewan

Consultant on Saskatchewan's natural resources.

Posted on July 24, 2017, in economic impact, miscellaneous, political, uranium and nuclear. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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