Can we tackle climate change without nuclear? In 2018, roughly 28% of electricity in the EU was generated by nuclear power. However, most of the reactors in Europe were constructed between the 1960s and 1980s, with the IEA reporting the average age of a reactor in the EU is 35 years. Billions of euros of investment will be needed to modernise Europe’s ageing fleet of nuclear plants; would it be better to phase out the technology altogether? Can Europe transition from fossil fuels without nuclear?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Esra arguing Europe should invest in nuclear energy to fight climate change. Is nuclear power better for the climate than coal and gas?

To get a response, we spoke to Erkki Maillard, Senior Vice-President for European and International Affairs at the Électricité de France (EDF) Group, a French electric utility company and one of the largest producers of electricity in the world. What would he say?

For another perspective, we put the same question to Wendel Trio, Director of the Climate Action Network Europe. How would he respond?

Should we invest in nuclear power? Is nuclear power better for the climate than coal and gas? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: Photo by Jesse Collins on Unsplash


51 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    István

    No. The existing plants must be provide enough raw materials, to product nuclear weapons.
    To generate more electric power, we better to use renewables.

    • avatar
      A.C.

      are you aware that renewables don’t bring all capacities given they are non controllable. That means we need an other controllable power plant in back up. If you remove nuclear, it’s usually gas or worste… coal.
      Not so clean… 🙁

    • avatar
      István

      better to say, in this moment, dificult to controll the producing capacities.
      However, to combine the renewable sources, ad to increasing the storaging capacities, can be handled it.
      Again: we not really need nuclear powerplants.
      To all of managers, who working on energy sector: please move your asses, and work out alternateve solutions. This is why you get the money: let’s do your fucking jobs.

  2. avatar
    Michael

    What worries me most is that dogmatic anti-nuclearism is inhibiting the construction of new, safer power plants while at the same time environmental concerns force us to decommission fossil fuel plants, putting more and more pressure on the grid. As demand for electricity inexorably rises, and struggling economies are pressured by high energy prices, old nuclear power plants are being pressed further and further beyond their originally intended lifespans just because politicians find it less controversial to quietly extend the life of old nuclear plants than to commission the construction of newer, safer ones.
    That is the very definition of absurdity, and it’s the kind of disaster waiting to happen that throws our entire social and political model into question. Whether or not you support the use of nuclear power or believe it is needed, we must insist that so long as we *do* continue to use nuclear power the plants be safe and modern, and not pushed beyond their design parameters. We should all, therefore, insist on the renovation of existing nuclear power plants.

    • avatar
      Kevin

      A logical and we’ll stated case for modern nuclear power.

    • avatar
      Chris R. Melville

      Excellent argument Michael. But please also consider the objective safety of nuclear energy over its history. For instance at Our World in Data: https://ourworldindata.org/safest-sources-of-energy. The older plants you refer to are already vastly more safe than our existing energy systems, and better than most modern alternatives. Cases in point are the thousands of pollution deaths per year Germany and Japan inflict on their citizens and neighbors because they have closed operable nuclear plants. Yes, probabalistic risks are lower still for Gen-3+ and Gen-4. But the greater danger to the public is invariably not operating a nuclear plant.

  3. avatar
    Maria

    It is the only way, studing clean nuclear power. If not we are going to be more and more poor because the renewable is so expensive and innefective.

  4. avatar
    Greek Paranoia

    FKING YES, FINALLY…

  5. avatar
    Nikolas

    No, it’s time to phase out gradually the nuclear energy.

    • avatar
      Wouter

      why? we can control the waste that comes from it and store it safely.
      It’s a lot less polluting than all other forms of power generation.

    • avatar
      Ziovas

      The best solution would be to finally come up with a fusion reactor and then we are set for ever 🙂 but until then we need it I think

    • avatar
      Wouter

      Fusion reactors will take decades to mature. Meanwhile, we already have fission power plants that are safe to use.
      So instead of waiting for a solution while spending billions on research, let’s use the method we already have and which can achieve our goals much faster

    • avatar
      Ziovas

      yeah but we still have to develope fusion, it has to work for us to be sustainable for ever. It will be all round better,safer and cheaper when it works..

    • avatar
      Nikolas

      Nuclear waste is thought to be managed safely now but nobody can guarantee that it will be managed safely for the at least 10.000 years that is radioactive…
      Nuclear fission plants could be kept for a transition period until we solve the problem of intermitency of the renewables.
      The nuclear fusion is a promising technology which has still some serious technological challenges. How much time do we have left to wait for it?
      Once the storage problem is solved, the renewables will be a very reliable and cheap solution. A solution which allows the democratisation of the energy production. This is the way to go.

  6. avatar
    João

    Yes. Nuclear Power is safer than before. Science evolved way beyond the fears of the past. We talk about the environment but we see countries, like Germany, inactivating nuclear power plants but, because of the lack of power, reactivating Coal power plans, way more dangerous for the environment. Nuclear is clean and storing the nuclear was can be done safely and for great lengths of time without it being a danger.
    Of course it needs to be done right and with proper investment, without cutting corners to save a few bucks.
    People ear the word nuclear and think “nuclear bombs” and a nuclear power plant has nothing to do with it (people watch to many movies).
    Invest in nuclear until the Fusion is ready and mature enough for general usage.

  7. avatar
    David

    Of course yes, it’s the only way to tackle climate change and lower our emissions.

    • avatar
      Vito

      producing nuclear waste??? Please get more information on this topic and you will realize by yourself that this is not the way to go

    • avatar
      David

      please get informed on the ways to safely store and/or reuse nuclear waste on other nuclear plants.

    • avatar
      Vito

      I did. In fact, I do it every day. I work in the energy sector and that is why i am asking you to get more info. It’s not just a problem of nuclear waste, it is also a public security problem. Nuclear plants are bombs waiting to be detonated. They are a huge risk as they could be targeted by terrorists. Nuclear energy is an obsolete way to produce energy. We know better, we can do better.

    • avatar
      Oliver

      “bombs waiting to be detonated” 🤣🤣 my good sir you hath not even the slightest clue of what thain is spoketh about. What part of the energy sector do you work in? Solar? Wind? Coal? Non of these give you any up on any basic guy with internet. All these nuclear crap is already the earth, we mine it out, get energy, and put it back down there. There really isnt much waste. What can a terrorist do to a nuclear plant? Oh please do tell, humor me🤣

    • avatar
      Vito

      I don’t reply to kids. Do your research. In any case, policies are going in another direction

    • avatar
      Oliver

      kids? 🤣Dude does thou not witness the magnificent beard that i uphold? Ive done my reasearch🤣 ive actually heard an ACTUAL NUCLEAR SCIENTEST speak on it. Now dont cower away, tell me how the nuclear plants are bombs and/or how terrorist can damage it. Please this is quite funny.

    • avatar
      Oliver

      you see, no substence. Only empty scare mongering.

  8. avatar
    Vito

    No. Invest in sustainable renewable energy sources and develop a sustainable production process for hydrogen. That is the way forward.

    • avatar
      Michael

      Nuclear power *is* the sustainable production process for hydrogen fuel.

    • avatar
      Vito

      not really. There are better ways to do it

    • avatar
      Michael

      No there really aren’t. Deriving hydrogen cleanly by separating it from water is extremely energy-intensive. It would drastically raise our total energy consumption to make enough to replace fossil fuels. There is just no conceivable clean way to do it at this stage except with nuclear power plants.

    • avatar
      Vito

      it certainly is an energy intensive process but that does non justify the use of nuclear power. There are better ways such as other renewable resources

  9. avatar
    Tihomir

    Nuclear waste is a bitch. Yes it is nuclear power is cleaner in the short run, but in the long run you are left with a waste that literary turns areas into a no-go zones for the next couple of centuries at least. Investments in nuclear power in that regard involves very complicates strategical decisions. In general we should prioritize renewables, but we can not allow ourselves to loose the capacity provided by nuclear plants too fast or without an adequate replacement. Such replacement is a separate topic on its own, because if we want to keep the existing energy distribution models we aren’t left with many options that both provide the volume, do not come with hidden costs and do not introduce incremental dependencies of financial and/or political nature. This makes the answer of the question dependent on parameters and not concepts. Putting it into plans that aim to reduce the ecological impact is not a good idea, because that takes away parts of the complexity of the energy distribution networks and enables polarization based only the ecological/economical features such plants provide. We really need to envision new energy distribution networks, and consider the problem in that context. The slow but eminent rise of electric vehicles makes that new vision even more important. What is also important is to differentiate between industrial consumers, and individual consumer as the needs there are very different. Put in a different way the question searches for a synthetic answer/solution(Y/N) of an organic(network based) problem by singling out a node type defined by the network based on its type(interface) and not its features/weight, and that is bad combination. A solving approach with such setting produces more problems than solutions which(provided you want to keep the network running) creates and endless discussion(this one in particular drags for decades if I remember correctly). Such discussions present a potential for political exploits, rather than constructing functional solution spaces.

    • avatar
      Oliver

      you do know that we store the waste underground. You know, a place noone would go. There really is not that much waste

    • avatar
      Tihomir

      do you know how radiation works?

    • avatar
      Oliver

      oh do tell.

  10. avatar
    Panos

    He’s, no other alternative

  11. avatar
    Sándor

    Do we need reliable electricity?

  12. avatar
    The King

    less talking more working 😃

  13. avatar
    Andrea

    Fission and hopefully soon fusion are the solution to energy needs
    None of this wind and solar bs from green fanatics and ecoterrorist.
    They can do close to nothing.
    Or we can do like Germany: shut down nuclear plant because feelings and be forced to reopen coal plant because SURPRISE the sun goes to sleep at night..

  14. avatar
    Ludwig

    We have no other choice with the increasing demand for electricity.

  15. avatar
    Nesta

    Yes but withoutChinese investment!

  16. avatar
    Chris R. Melville, Ph.D.

    Decarbonizing the world’s energy systems is a gargantuan task, and one in which decades of effort have made only minor inroads. For instance pre-pandemic global consumption of coal, of oil, and of gas where each at all-time record highs. So, the better question is what should be the priority order of actions we take to reduce carbon emissions, and other pollutants as well. In that way, while pursuing multiple strategies, we invest the most effort on the solutions that bring us closest to the ideal outcome.
    If that ideal outcome is minimizing the impacts on ecosystems and on the species which constitute them; then we need to consider the elements of environmental footprint. Those elements are: life-cycle CO2 (climate); life-cycle materials use (resource intensity); land use; and emitted pollution. Adding to these the human value of safety, we should also consider the death-footprint per unit of energy provided. Comparing all proven energy sources across these five criteria gives your ideal priority order, which can vary depending on how you weigh various attributes. But what is objectively true, is that across each of these criteria, nuclear energy is best, or tied for best. So whatever motivating goals critics of nuclear energy may have, they are in fact arguing against a vibrant, verdant, and safe future.

  17. avatar
    Kim Ahlberg

    Yes. Sweden and France already proved that going nuclear provides the cleanest electricity at the lowest cost while generating the least amount of waste decades ago. It’s mind blowing that this question is raised in 2020.
    We’ve had the technology to reliably power our communities and beat climate change for half a century and some countries keep investing in methane gas power plants instead 🤯

  18. avatar
    Jakob

    We need a revolution in the provision of residential and industrial heat in the climate crisis. It is becoming increasingly clear that biomass is not a solution. We need urban small modular reactors with combined heat/power cycles. And we may well also need to think about how to power desalination if current drought pattern persist.

  19. avatar
    John

    Most definitely yes. One only has to look at the disastrous climate policy of Germany for an example, that delivers both higher costs and higher emissions. Nuclear power is the only electricity source that fully manages its wastes and the volumes are incredibly low. Even the oldest nuclear plants are being run safely and reliably and are not producing any greenhouse gasses.

  20. avatar
    Philipp

    Nuclear Energy for net zero is a great goal. Nuclear energy can provide the base load/ reliability which renewables cannot. New technologies have made nuclear reactors safer and more efficient.
    Molten Salt Reactors seem like the right choice to invest and develop. Both for large and small scale power stations. Their safety by design aspect would help change public perception about nuclear technology. A good source of well researched information (https://whatisnuclear.com/)

  21. avatar
    Philipp

    Should we invest in nuclear power? – I say yes, nuclear energy is a great way to provide a reliable carbon free base load for our grid.

  22. avatar
    Igor

    We have to invest in nuclear power only if we want to have GHG free, 24/7 available electricity.

  23. avatar
    Catherine Benning

    Should we invest in nuclear power?

    It opens with the Greener. over the picture, all quite mad. Nuclear power is the most destructive pollution on the planet, and we all know it. The only place it can be sent to rid us of its litter is, in rockets to the sun.

    The nuclear stations put in in the sea.

  24. avatar
    Mike

    The question first is can we fulfil or what is the gap between green technology electric production and demand. I am sure it’s more cost effective to invest in green first and maximise potential and then use alternates such a nuclear in a less but supportive way. This makes sure we can reduce risks and keep it affordable. Also time to market for green tech is much quicker than a new fossil fuel or nuclear power generation facility.

  25. avatar
    Willem Joustra

    Should we invest in MSR Th and/or modular U235? For sure. Better bet than fusion, and a lot cheaper from the looks of it. And it’s an investment instead of a divestment like wind and solar.

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