Nuclear power’s role in addressing climate change issues

Round-the-clock stable electricity supply is a basic public need. But, it requires production of huge amount of electric power and stable operations of power plants. In the present context of our common concern over the threatening global warming power generation should be in line with the climate protection requirements.

According to scientists and experts if the global warming caused by greenhouse gas emission cannot be restricted to a certain level the planet will face a severe disaster. Bangladesh will be one of the worst sufferers with a huge part of the country will go under water.

Last October the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report titled Global Warming of 1.5 degree Celsius. According to renowned global experts in everyone’s interest global warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial level. The expert panel concluded that significant increase in nuclear power is essential for achieving the global emission reduction goals.

Director General of World Nuclear Association Agneta Rising also thinks the same. According to her, “Global carbon emissions jumped to an all-time high in 2018. It happened at such a time when the latest IPCC report says that emissions must be cut almost immediately, investment in alternatives to fossil fuels, particularly nuclear, needs to be increased substantially.”

Role of renewable energy in mitigating the climate change is well recognized. But there are some confusions among people about the role of nuclear energy. William D Magwood, Director General, Nuclear Energy Agency says, “Nuclear power is complementary to renewable technologies, mitigating risks related to their intermittence and contributing to a decarbonised and more secure electricity system.”

A review by World Nuclear Association shows that use of nuclear and renewable sources for power generation results in much less greenhouse gas emission than the fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil etc.). In fact, nuclear power plants during their operation cycle do not emit any greenhouse gas. According to a study by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear power plants presently help reduce emission of 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

Relative rates of hazardous and conventional industrial waste generation of nuclear power plants are also significantly lower than in that of other power plants. During the operation of a nuclear power plant, relatively small amount of radioactive waste is generated under controlled conditions.

The waste management of a nuclear plant follows the “collection, control and encapsulation” philosophy, rather than the practice of “dilution and dumping”, used in coal and gas power plants. For example, if the 25-year power consumption by an average European family of four is covered by the energy produced by a nuclear power plant, the high-level radioactive waste generated during this time will have a volume of only 1.2 decilitres, that is, the volume of a cube with an edge length of 2.3 cm.

Currently, more and more countries are recognizing the reality that the round-the-clock supply of large amount of energy while meeting global emission goals is possible through use of nuclear power sources. Presently 452 nuclear power units are in operations and 54 new units are under construction in different countries, including two in Bangladesh, 13 new units will go in to operations this year.

An upward trend in construction of nuclear power plants is observed throughout the world both in developed and developing countries. We can see an ambitious but realistic plan in this regard by India and China -the two most densely populated countries in the world. Few other countries, that earlier announced to shut down nuclear power production are reconsidering their decision.

Gerassimos Thomas, Deputy DG for Energy, EU Commission thinks that, “Nuclear energy is essential to bridge the gap between the contribution of renewable and the EU’s 2050 climate goals. Europe will reduce greenhouse gases by 45 per cent by 2030, and by 60 per cent by 2050. We need to decarbonise, and that’s where I think nuclear comes in. In all of the pathways we have examined, Europe, as a whole, requires nuclear power to cover a significant part of its electricity needs.”

Modern nuclear power units, being built around the world, are much more technologically advanced and safer than their predecessors. Nowadays nuclear power plants are built with a guaranteed lifetime of 50-60 years and having high capacity factor of about 90 per cent, giving them clear advantage on other sources of energy.

Russian Generation 3+ nucler units have technological parameters ensuring complete safety of operation. The design developers used state-of-the-art solutions. The main feature of the latest Russian VVER-1200 reactor design is that it combines both active and passive safety systems, resulting in nuclear power plants’ protection against external and internal risks with maximum efficiency.

Passive safety systems will remain operational in the event of any power outage without any need of human intervention. This innovative Russian technology has been chosen by some European countries like Finland, Hungary and Belarus, as well as a number of other countries.

If we consider the effect on environment one VVER-1200 reactor-based power plant in comparison to a coal fired power plant of the same capacity allows reduce CO2 emission by 10.8 million tonnes per year. In case of gas-based power plant the number is 5.8 million tonnes.

Next comes the question of economic viability of nuclear power. It is a valid question, as we need to consider the economic aspect as well. A report by the European Commission on Hungarian plans to construct two new nuclear power units with Russian VVER-1200 reactors has shown that the planned nuclear power plant will provide return on investments and bring significant profit. If new nuclear power plants can be built in Europe in an economically viable way, then why not in other countries?

Another important aspect of nuclear power generation is the cost of fresh nuclear fuel which constitutes only 10-15 per cent of the total production costs. Even if the price of nuclear fuel doubles, the cost of power production will grow by no more than 15 to 20 per cent, whereas in case of other sources there will be significant increase in price. Nuclear power generation is protected from dramatic cost hike.

As a whole nuclear power is expected to play an increasingly important role at a global scale, in achieving the development goals while protecting the environment from harmful emissions.

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