Nuclear power generation and the urgency of fighting climate change

With the fight against climate change becoming more urgent than ever, nuclear energy is making a comeback in the discussions around the energy transition. The recent energy price crisis driven by fossil fuels and natural gas (sometimes also considered a necessary transition fuel) is also providing additional arguments in favour of nuclear.

Although nuclear provides a substantial share of power generation capacity in some countries, it only delivers around 10% of the power generation worldwide, or about 4% of total world energy supply.

Nuclear – a carbon free source of energy?

Nuclear power plants provide near-zero carbon electricity. However, the complete nuclear fuel lifecycle requires energy in its mining, fuel preparation, enrichment and fuel post-treatment phases, representing around 10% of the output of the corresponding plants. Hence, if these nuclear power plants are part of a generation mix with CO2 emissions, their indirect emissions per unit of power produced are about 10% of those of the mix. As an example, in the German mix, which has CO2 emissions of the order of 200g/kWh, the nuclear plants are responsible for emissions of the order of 20g/kWh for each kWh that they generate. If these plants were in a fully decarbonised mix – consisting of only nuclear and/or renewable energy sources (RES) – their total lifecycle emissions would be close to zero.

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Authors: Pierre Dechamps, Senior Advisor in the Energy and Natural Resources team in FTI Consulting Brussels.

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