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Do we need nuclear power in the energy mix to stop climate change?

Some say it is indispensable if we are serious about hitting net-zero emissions targets. Others insist it is unnecessary and unconscionable. Here is what you need to know about nuclear energy now

Environment 25 May 2022

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Irena Gajic

LUXEMBOURG’S energy minister described it as “a provocation”. Austria declared it would “destroy the future of our children”. And climate activist Greta Thunberg railed against “fake climate action”.

Their anger was directed at a draft regulation from the European Commission, released earlier this year, that would designate nuclear power as a “green” source of electricity and thereby make nuclear projects eligible for favourable financial terms. France, Europe’s leading atomic state with 56 active reactors and more planned, was unperturbed.

Such are the fault lines. “The debate over whether we need nuclear power is very polarised,” says M. V. Ramana at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

For many, it is too dangerous and expensive. Others say that nuclear power is a reliable source of clean energy – indispensable if we want to meet increasingly ambitious climate goals. In its 2021 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) included nuclear-generated electricity in all four of its suggested pathways to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Add in fresh concerns over energy security, and it is no surprise new life has been breathed into an old question: do we really need nuclear energy?

In the fog of claim and counterclaim, it can be hard to know what to think. Arguments over nuclear seem to generate a lot more heat than light. However, now more than ever we need answers to key questions: Is nuclear prohibitively costly? Can we build it quickly enough? Is the waste problem a deal-breaker? And, ultimately, is there a better way to meet demand for carbon-free electricity when renewable energy sources fall short?

Nuclear has …