Advocates of nuclear power claim a new generation of nuclear reactors is the answer to the fossil fuels problem. Beyond Nuclear has assembled a series of talking points from experts explaining why increasing the number of nuclear plants will actually make the climate crisis worse. A summary of some their arguments can be found below. 

1) Why Nuclear Power Slows Action on Climate Change

Amory B. Lovins writes that nuclear power “is far slower and more expensive than renewables” making renewable energy solutions like solar and wind “the clear winner over nuclear power.” He argues that in order to save the climate “we must save the most carbon at the least cost and in the least time, counting all three variables – carbon and cost and time.”

Costly options like nuclear power stations save less carbon per pound than cheaper ones, while the longer a technology takes to come online, the less carbon it saves. Therefore even low or no-carbon energy generators will become less effective in protecting the climate if they’re too expensive or take too long to come online.

In Britain, the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant  was due to begin generating electricity in 2023. However, in February 2023 EDF said they hoped the reactors would start in June 2027, but warned of another potential 15 month delay. Costs meanwhile have soared to £32.7 billion – a 15 percent increase on 2015 estimates. 

2) Why pursuing “advanced” reactors is too slow, too resource-intensive, too dangerous and won’t result in improvements over traditional light water reactors

Dr. Edwin Lyman writes that the term “advanced” reactor is a “misnomer since none of the non-light-water reactors (NLWRs) under consideration are genuinely new or improved. All present unique, numerous and increased safety problems that deliver no significant improvements over traditional light-water reactors (LWRs) to justify their development, given their considerable costs and risks.”

3) Does nuclear power effectively reduce carbon emissions?

The authors of this third talking point note that implementing a diverse range of renewables is “generally proving, in the real world, to be crucially more effective than nuclear power at reducing climate disruption.”  If nuclear power is to play a part in significantly reducing carbon emissions by 2050, it would require an additional $4 trillion in funding. 

In terms of lead-in time, solar and wind energy average at 40 months when compared to 90 months for nuclear power. As a result, renewable projects can lead to quicker emissions reductions per pound invested. 

What about the military connection? States that possess nuclear weapons tend to favour nuclear power when compared to non-nuclear armed countries. “Expensive and relatively ineffective nuclear attachments are increasingly obviously driven by military agendas,” the authors argue. 

4) Net zero without nuclear. It’s not only possible, but essential

While nuclear power’s backers claim it is necessary to meet net zero targets, former Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission Jonathon Porritt says this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Offshore wind could theoretically provide enough electricity to meet total global electricity demand while large-scale solar is predicted to become the cheapest generating technology by 2025.” Porritt adds that the decommissioning of nuclear waste must be factored in to pricing of proposed nuclear projects and not shouldered by the taxpayer. 

Climate change also poses great risks to existing nuclear plants located along Britain’s coastline, as rising sea levels, coastal erosion, flooding, and greater summer temperatures create new risks. 

5) Germany’s Energy Revolution is working

In 2023, Germany shut down the last of its nuclear reactors as part of the ‘Energiewende’ or Energy Revolution. This offers a great case study on what Britain can achieve by embracing a similar strategy. Benefits for Germany include a jobs boom with 330,000 renewable jobs supported in 2015, with more expected to come in the wake of new legislation. Renewables have also offered Germans collective ownership of renewable utilities, bills on par with other industrialised countries yet to embrace the transition, and are helping to stabilise the electricity grid as technologies improve and become cheaper. 

6) Small Modular Reactors solve none of the challenges of nuclear power and make climate change and proliferation worse

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have been touted as the future of nuclear power in Britain, with Rolls-Royce looking for billions of pounds in funding for unproven designs. While smaller than other reactors types, the briefing notes that “SMR proposals typically envision multiple reactors at a single site, lowering costs by sharing infrastructure. However, multiple small reactors would hold the same collective radioactive inventory as a large reactor.” 

SMRs also pose the same toxic waste problems as other fission reactors and raise concerns about nuclear proliferation, as many SMR designs require “either higher enriched uranium or plutonium, both of which can be used to make nuclear weapons.”