How does atomic energy help humanity

Pros and cons of atomic energy : Do we need nuclear power to fight the climate crisis?

At the turn of the year, the Philippsburg 2 nuclear power plant near Karlsruhe went offline. This means that only six reactors are still running in Germany, but all of them are to be shut down by the end of 2022. At the same time, an intense debate is currently developing as to whether nuclear power will not remain indispensable for overcoming the climate crisis for the next few decades. You can read the arguments of both sides in this pros and cons.

PRO: Nuclear energy has a small ecological footprint and is sustainable

Nuclear energy is climate-friendly. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it causes extremely low greenhouse emissions over its entire life cycle, comparable to wind energy and even less so than solar energy.
Nuclear energy also has a small ecological footprint and is sustainable, also in comparison with renewable energies.

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It requires little land area, uses few raw materials due to the high energy density of uranium and, contrary to prevailing prejudice, causes little and easily manageable waste. Finland is currently setting up a repository with the consent of local residents.

There is enough raw material: The unused uranium still contained in the "garbage" can be reused in high-speed reactors, and uranium can also be extracted from seawater. That way, the uranium supplies would last for thousands of years. In France and Sweden, emissions have fallen rapidly as a result of the expansion of nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy is safe and inexpensive

Nuclear energy is very safe overall. Historically, it has cost much less human life per unit of energy over the entire life cycle than fossil fuels, possibly even less than solar and wind energy.

After the largest reactor accident in Fukushima this century, evacuations did much more damage than prevented. The nuclear phase-out that has been advanced in Germany has already caused over 4600 premature deaths from avoidable air pollution due to the prolonged use of fossil fuels and will result in a total of 1.2 billion tons more CO2 emissions. At least that is the result of model calculations. As this example also shows, fear of radiation is usually far more dangerous than radiation itself.

Nuclear energy is cheap. Where the share of nuclear energy in the electricity mix is ​​high - for example in France, Sweden, Switzerland and / or the Canadian province of Ontario - the emissions per unit of energy are much lower than in Germany and the costs of electricity are low.

The cost of new reactors can be further reduced by regaining experience and using standardized, mass-produced models, such as in small modular reactors (SMRs).

Energy system models show that an emission-free overall system is more likely to be achieved at reasonable costs if nuclear energy is also used as a non-variable source. The need for energy storage, network expansion and backup power plants with high outsourced costs and additional CO2 emissions from gas power plants is then lower.

Nuclear energy should be part of the future energy mix

All of this is not only seen by the supposed nuclear power lobby: leading climate scientists such as the pioneer of climate research, James Hansen, see nuclear energy as an essential component of energy supply in the sense of the climate. A position that Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt already took in 1979. More and more people come to the same point of view.

The UN's sustainability goals demand affordable energy for almost ten billion people. To do this, we need all low-CO2 energy sources in order to achieve our climate goals at the same time. Nuclear energy, but in the future also other technologies such as the separation and storage of carbon dioxide in combustion power plants, are part of it.

Amardeo Sarma is an electrical engineer and founding member of Ökomoderne e.V. as well as co-founder and chairman of GWUP e.V.

Assistance: Simon Friederich, Chairman, Ökomoderne e.V.

Editor's note: We have linked some sources on which the authors base their arguments.

Cons: Nuclear power plants have no place in a climate-neutral energy supply

Neither for Germany nor globally does nuclear energy offer a promising perspective for a climate-friendly - with the goal of being climate-neutral - energy supply.

There are a number of essential reasons for this, including the well-known questions of safe operation, especially in the event of natural disasters such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks, and the unresolved question of the final disposal of radioactive waste. In addition, the high costs and the lack of system compatibility with fluctuating renewable energies such as wind and solar energy should be mentioned.

The LCOE for renewable energies has fallen dramatically and will continue to do so. In many places, even in Germany, electricity from wind energy and photovoltaics is cheaper today than that from almost all conventional power plants.

New nuclear power plants are becoming more and more expensive

It is true that the systemic total costs are higher than those of pure production. But the prices for electrical storage systems are also falling rapidly. We are still at the very beginning when it comes to the production of hydrogen and other synthetic energy sources that enable long-term storage. Here, too, massive reductions in costs can be expected as a result of scaling effects and developments in the field of technologies.

On the other hand, there are rising costs for new nuclear power plants. The examples of Hinkley Point in Great Britain and Olkiluoto in Finland show this. Hinkley Point, for example, can only be financed at all through long-term, state-guaranteed high feed-in tariffs.

There is no question that more electrification in all areas of use will be a core element of a climate-friendly energy system. This requires sector coupling with the use of electricity in the areas of mobility, heat for buildings and industry.

This can be done directly or indirectly through the use of synthetic energy sources produced using clean electricity. In order to generate this electricity with low CO2 emissions, the most cost-effective energies sun and wind will play a rapidly growing role. Almost all major studies come to this conclusion.

Nuclear power plants in today's design do not fit with renewable energies

Nuclear power plants in today's design are base load power plants that do not harmonize very well with these highly dynamic renewable energies. And they are characterized by a very high initial investment and comparatively low operating costs.

This means that the highest possible number of operating hours is necessary for refinancing. In this respect, inexpensive gas-fired power plants that can be operated dynamically fit together much better with the rapidly growing, fluctuating renewable energies.

And the plants operated with fossil natural gas today could in future be operated with a steadily increasing proportion of renewable synthetic energy sources.

The interaction of the technologies described - renewable energies, sector coupling, storage, synthetic energy sources, highly flexible power plants - enables the construction of an energy system that does justice to the triangle of objectives in the energy industry.

This consists of security of supply, environmental and climate compatibility as well as competitiveness. This is particularly evident when, in the case of fossil and nuclear energies, the external costs that have so far often been passed on to the public and future generations are taken into account.
Hans-Martin Henning is head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg and teaches at the university there.

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