Posts Tagged Europe

Being pro-nuclear does not undermine climate and energy goals

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 26th, 2016

By Stephen Tindale and Suzanna Hinson

“EU member states with pro-nuclear policies risk undermining Europe’s 2020 Strategy on climate and energy goals, an academic study has found.”

Maxine Perella: “Pro-nuclear EU countries ‘slower to tackle GHGs or boost renewables’ – study.” ENDS Europe, 24 August 2016

The study referred to is “Nuclear energy and path dependence in Europe’s ‘Energy union’: coherence or continued divergence?” by Andrew Lawrence, Benjamin Sovacool and Andrew Stirling, from the University of Sussex and the Vienna School of International Relations.[1]

The authors consider data from all European countries. They divide them into three main categories: always anti-nuclear (13 countries); now anti-nuclear (7); pro-nuclear (8). The headline conclusions are that:

– The always-anti countries have reduced their emissions by an average of 6% since 2005, and had increased renewable energy sources to 26%.

– The now-anti countries reduced emissions on average by 11% while expanding renewables to 19%.

– In pro-nuclear countries, greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 2005 by an average of 3%, and only 16% of energy is from renewables.

– On the basis of these figures, the authors conclude:”[The] intensities of national commitment to nuclear power tend to be inversely related to degrees of success in achieving EU climate policy goals.”

The study was published in the journal Climate Policy, so will have been peer reviewed. It deserves to be taken seriously – and has already been widely discussed. However, the authors’ conclusions are, in our view, based on two significant mistakes:

– The categories of pro- and anti-nuclear are too broad and do not compare like with like;

– Reduction of greenhouse gases and promotion of renewable energy are presented together as a single objective. They are not.

The authors group countries together into always anti-nuclear, now anti-nuclear and pro-nuclear. To be in the ‘now anti-‘ category, a country’s government must have a policy to decommission existing nuclear power stations and not allow replacements. Germany clearly belongs in this category. Does Sweden, which the authors also place there? In 1980 Swedes voted in a referendum to phase out nuclear power, though no timetable was set. Since then Swedish policy on nuclear has been, to use the diplomatic word used by the World Nuclear Association, “ambivalent”.[2] In 2010, at the behest of a centre-right government, the Swedish parliament lifted the ban on new nuclear construction. In 2014 the Green Party entered a centre-left coalition, so new nuclear was off the political agenda for a while. But on 10 June this year (so shortly after the publication of the Climate Policy article) the government lifted its moratorium on nuclear new build, and also reduced the tax on nuclear. Sweden is not, therefore, an anti-nuclear country.

The countries which the authors do place in their pro-nuclear category are Finland, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the UK: countries with very different economic and political circumstances. We do not believe that it makes analytical sense to compare western European countries – established democracies with strong economies – with ex-communist central and eastern European ones. And the existing energy mix is also a determining factor in a country’s attitude to climate action. The reason the Polish government opposes strong greenhouse gas reduction targets is not because it wants to build a nuclear power station; it is because Polish society and economy are currently so dependent on coal.

If one narrows the category to western European countries, how do pro-and anti-nuclear countries compare? In terms of greenhouse gas reductions since 2005, the figures given in the Climate Policy article are:

Country Authors’ category Greenhouse gas reduction since 2005
Denmark Always anti -20%
Ireland Always anti -20%
Austria Always anti -16%
Finland Pro -16%
Netherlands Now anti -16%
Belgium Now anti -15%
France Pro -14%
Germany Now anti -14%
UK Pro -14%
Italy Always anti -13%
Spain Now anti -10%
Sweden Now anti -10%


Denmark and Ireland, the countries that have reduced emissions most since 2005, have always been anti-nuclear. But two examples do not constitute a proven link. Beyond these two, the figures do not establish correlation, let alone causation. In joint second on -16% are one country from each of the three categories. Anti-nuclear Germany and pro-nuclear Britain and France have each reduced emissions by 14% since 2005.

Performance on renewable energy

The authors then consider how well countries are performing on renewable energy. They mention the drawbacks of some renewable energy technologies, including large hydro and bioenergy, but nevertheless present single figures, covering all renewables, for each country. Bioenergy and nuclear can be used anywhere, but other renewables, especially hydro, are geographically dependent.

The figures for western European countries are given below. Again, there is no correlation between attitude to nuclear and performance on renewables.

Country Category Percentage of energy from renewables (2013)
Sweden Now anti (according to authors) 52%
Finland Pro 37%
Austria Always anti 33%
Denmark Always anti 27%
France Pro 14%
Germany Now anti 12.5%
UK Pro 5%
Netherlands Now anti 4.5%


Sweden get about 40% of its electricity from hydro; Finland 18%. Finland got 16% of electricity from bioenergy in 2013, Sweden 6%. Both countries also use bioenergy extensively for heating.[3] They have strong criteria for minimising the biodiversity impact of biomass, but not for assessing the carbon footprint. EU rules on the carbon footprint of bioenergy apply only to biofuels, not to biomass. Bioenergy is necessary, particularly for heating and for transport. But not all bioenergy expansion is desirable. Being renewable is not the same as being good for the climate. Similarly, large-scale hydro, has some severe consequences to habitats, erosion and hydrology meaning though it is good for the climate, it is not necessarily good for the environment.

Are renewables better than nuclear?

Does it matter whether greenhouse gas reductions are achieved through expansion of renewables, or through other measures? It does not matter to the global climate. In our view, the scale of the climate crisis is such that we need rapidly to move beyond arguments about which low-carbon technology to support and accepted that all are required. (Our next report will be on this issue.) But the way in which emissions are reduced appears to matter to the Climate Policy authors. Professor Andy Stirling, said about his report: “By suppressing better ways to meet climate goals, evidence suggests entrenched commitments to nuclear power may actually be counterproductive.”[4]

Academics should always define their terms. So we have a question for Professor Sterling: better in what sense?






The East/West Nuclear Divide

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 10th, 2015

Last century, during the height of the cold war, the Iron Curtain that descended across Europe represented more than just the border between the capitalist west and communist east. It represented the developed and the undeveloped, the poor and the rich, the future and the past. And yet now some of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe are proving themselves to be far more forward thinking than their western neighbours. Nuclear power is the future in terms of protecting against energy and climate insecurity but powerful and developed parts of Western Europe are going backwards from that future, rather than making progress towards it. Austria has long been nuclear free and in 2011 Germany decided to follow their example and consequently cast its climate change and decarbonisation targets into question. On the other side of the extinct line, a need for secure fuel* for economic growth is facilitating significant nuclear progress. Last month the Czech government launched a huge long-term plan for nuclear production. This echoed the progress of Slovakia and Hungary on building reactors and is helping to inspire others such as Poland who are well on their way towards commencing their own nuclear programme and Lithuania who are also hoping for new nuclear development after the 2009 closure of their last plant. Although France, Finland and Britain are in favour of nuclear, it seems the characteristics of the Iron Curtain have in part reversed and some of the West could learn much from the forward thinking East.


* However the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are to varying degrees relying on Russia for help with fuel supply, reactor designs and funding. This reliance limits the complete energy security of the new nuclear power. Conversely, Poland and Lithuania are hoping to construct their new nuclear plants without Russian support.–finance.html

Germany going backwards – will it take Europe with it?

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on July 21st, 2015

Germanys oldest nuclear power station, the Grafenrheinfeld reactor, which had been providing energy since 1981, has been shut down. It is the latest closure in Germany’s plan to switch off all its nuclear power plants by 2022. The move was made in response to the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which – despite killing no one – has done much to put the world off nuclear power. This overreaction to an imagined threat of radiation has lead to real threats to energy security and climate change mitigation, not only within Germany but across Europe. In 2011, when Angela Merkel’s affinity for nuclear came to an abrupt end, the country’s reactors provided 25% of Germany’s energy. The supposed replacement has been a huge push for renewables, with an aim of 80% renewable electricity by 2050. But with renewable consistency challenges, and a long timescale of realization, Germany is having to plug the gaping gap left by nuclear closures, and it has had little choice but to turn to fossil fuels – especially coal. Not only does this have huge implications for air quality, and climate change targets within Germany and across Europe, it will also have knock on political effects across Europe. Germany’s influence may put others off nuclear power, to the detriment of the entire continent.

Exploring space by exploiting nuclear

Posted by Stephen Tindale on June 16th, 2015

The Philae lander has woken up. When Philae landed on the comet, it was on its side in a valley, so its solar panels could not generate enough electricity to keep the lander’s technology operating once the batteries ran out. As a result, Philae did excellent scientific research for 60 hours, then ‘went to sleep’. Seven months later, the comet is closer to the sun so the solar panels are generating enough power to resume research. This is excellent news. But seven months of research have been lost unnecessarily. Philae should have carried a nuclear power source, as NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover did. Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager, was asked last November why Philae didn’t have one. He replied that ‘launching nuclear power sources carries safety and political implications and, in any case, Europe does not have that technology’. (

The safety issue is – as so often with nuclear power – overstated. Mars Curiosity was powered by a small, solid amount of Plutonium-238, completely insoluble in water. Physics professor Ethan Siegel writes that: “This means that even if there’s a disaster on launch, the radioactive material won’t go anywhere, and can not only be retrieved, but reused in future missions.” ( )

Would Europe have been able to obtain the necessary nuclear equipment from NASA? Surely the answer is yes. The space race is over. The Soviet Union put the first person in space; the USA put the first person on the moon. The European Space Agency, Philae’s owner, has been working with NASA on the International Space Station since 1998.

So it was down to politics. Theological opposition to all things nuclear, led by Germany (as most things in Europe are at present), meant that Philae was sent to land on a comet with only intermittent solar photovoltaics to replenish its power supply. Angela Merkel, who has a PhD in quantum chemistry, allowed her politics to obscure her scientific desire for knowledge.

Czechmate against nuclear? No. Here’s why not

Posted by Mark Halper on February 18th, 2013

Nuking CO2. This slide presented earlier this month by Nobel winning physicist Burton Richter shows that the lifecycle CO2 emissions of nuclear – including mining and manufacturing – are lower than those of biomass and solar, and are on a par with hydro and geothermal. As a low emitter, nuclear trounces fossil fuels. The chart comes originally from a group of University of Wisconsin PhD students.

Today’s post is a sort of de facto double guest blog.

After Bloomberg all but sounded the death knell for new nuclear power projects in the Czech Republic and across Europe last week, some staunch defenders of the nuclear faith emerged.

Bloomberg had quoted energy experts saying that capital costs, risks and lengthy delays would scupper the two proposed new reactors at Temelin in the Czech Republic, and would likely do the same for a pair of reactors in the UK and at several other proposed sites in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

The story cited declining energy prices and the low cost of carbon credits, among other factors.

“The future of nuclear energy in Europe looks very dim indeed,” said one of the experts, Mycle Schneider, an independent consultant on energy and nuclear power based in Paris. “Nuclear is too capital intensive, too time-consuming and simply too risky.”

Nuclear new builds would die, despite government mandates to decrease reliance on CO2-emitting fossil fuels. As the Bloomberg story noted, “While the Czech government says it wants new reactors to replace coal plants and reduce dependence on Russian gas, consensus is proving difficult to find.”


No sooner did Bloomberg run the story than the rebuttals started popping up in the comments section.

Here are two of them, word for word.  The first comes from Alex Cannara, the Bay Area radiation expert and thorium supporter. I particularly like his point about nuclear’s low lifecycle CO2 emissions compared to renewables like wind (a point essentially backed up by the chart above presented by Nobel prize winning Stanford University physicist Burton Richter at an EDF “Science Day” in Sausalito, Calif. earlier this month):

Hope they didn’t pay this ‘consultant’ much for:  “Nuclear is too capital intensive, too time-consuming and simply too risky.”

Germany thinks it’s ok to emit tens of mega-tons more of CO2 because they like coal & ligniite better than nuclear?  Remind us how many Germans have died from nuclear-power radiation.  What about Americans?  English?  French?  Oh yes, all zero.

Whoever wrote the advice above seems ok with the deaths and disease from combustion, mining, etc. — all things needed for windmills, by the way.

So when we see German coal & gas burning costing ~180 years of human life per TW-hour, we should say that’s ok, despite German nuclear costing less than 1/6 those years of life?  Really?

Remember, making 1 large Siemens windmill requires processing about 2000 tons of materials via fossil fuels — steel needs coal and iron ore, etc.  Concrete needs kilned limestone & mined/crushed aggregate., etc.  So the emissioins burden of wind is higher than nuclear.  And we’re not even talking about the vast tracts of land/sea taken for wind.  Nor are we talking about species threats, maintenance emissions, worker dangers, and even maritime dangers for offshore windmills.

And here we thought the Germans the smartest — must have been some PR, or the beer.


Soon after Cannara piped up, thorium advocate Timothy Maloney from the Thorium Energy Alliance weighed in, after another commenter had suggested “pumped hydro” and its “85 percent” efficiency as a sustainable form of generating electricity. Note Maloney’s encouragement of a LFTR reactor (pronounced “lifter”), which is a thorium-fueled molten salt reactor:

Pumped Storage Hydro is efficient, but not quite 85%.  The NREL’s Renewable Electricity Futures Study,  Vol 1, p.181, cites 80%.

The problem with PSH is that it doesn’t carry us for a very long time.  The NREL study, p. 106, note 21 estimates only 8 hours maximum.

Hydro is the least expensive current generation method, but it’s not baseload.  Hoover Dam works 100% of the time, for now, but most dams do not.  Worldwide, the capacity factor for all hydro installations is only 44%.  James Conca, Forbes , June 15, 2012, The Naked Cost of Energy.

Hydro’s  total life-cycle cost is about 3 cents per kWh.   We in the Thorium Energy Alliance think we can beat that handily with Liquid-Fuel Thorium Reactors – LFTR.

Our total life-cycle plant construction cost is about one-half cent per kWh (50 years plant longevity at 100% capacity factor).   The fuel itself (thorium) is so inexpensive it’s essentially zero cost.  Add 1 cent per kWh for plant Operation & Maintenance, the standard estimate, and we come in at about 1.5 cents per kWh.

About half the cost of Hydro.

The game is not yet over in Europe. In fact with superior alternatives like thorium, molten salt and others waiting in the wings, nuclear should continue to have a vital role. China and India are making such a play, Europe would look foolish not to.

© The Alvin Weinberg Foundation 2014
The Alvin Weinberg Foundation is a registered UK charity. Charity number: 1155255
The Alvin Weinberg Foundation web site uses cookies to record visitor patterns.
Read our data protection policy

Design by Tauri-tec Ltd and the Alvin Weinberg Foundation