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Renewables 'faster and cheaper' than nuclear in saving the climate

Even existing nuclear plants more expensive than renewables, admits World Nuclear Industry Status report

Renewable energy is cheaper and reduces emissions faster than nuclear power, according to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report from French industry consultant Mycle Schneider.

New renewable plants in many countries with nuclear fleets now can not only compete economically with new nuclear, but also with existing nuclear power plants, the report finds.

“The closure of uneconomic reactors will not directly save CO2 emissions but can indirectly save more CO2 than closing a coal-fired plant, if the nuclear plant’s larger saved operating costs are reinvested in efficiency or cheap modern renewables that in turn displace more fossil-fuelled generation,” Schneider argues.

Renewables coupled with efficiency measures thus can bolster energy security at least as well as nuclear power can, says the report.

“The nuclear industry has become one of the most potent obstacles to renewables’ further progress by diverting demand and capital to itself.”

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How the continuation of existing nuclear power can dilute renewable energy plans has been shown in France, where despite recent successes in the renewable expansion, the nuclear lobby has been successful in thwarting any government plans to reduce the country’s nuclear fleet fast.

After delaying earlier plans to diminish the share of nuclear in France’s power mix to 50% from more than 70% now by ten years, the government of President Emmanuel Macron in its latest ten-year energy plan had presented a slower-than-expected build-up of onshore and offshore wind.

New operating subsidies for uneconomic reactors in the US or preferential dispatch like the “nuclear-must-run” rule in Japan lead to uncompetitive generation to serve demand for which efficiency and renewables are not allowed to compete, the report adds.

Non-nuclear options also save more CO2 per dollar, Schneider emphasises, as current programmes for the construction of new nuclear are particularly slow, taking five to 17 years longer to build than utility-scale solar or onshore wind power.

“So existing fossil-fuelled plants emit far more CO2 while awaiting substitution by the nuclear option. Stabilising the climate is urgent, nuclear power is slow,” said Schneider.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report provides an annual overview of data on nuclear power age, operation, production, construction and performance.

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