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Is Nuclear Green?

Posted in Climate,France,Nuclear by Cheryl Morgan on the September 26th, 2008

In the wake of EdF’s (planned) purchase of British Energy, Oliver Morton tackles the issue of whether nuclear energy will indeed lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions. He notes that between 1977 and 2003 the amount of nuclear generation in France grew by 4000%, and yet:

According to the Stern review fossil fuel emissions in France during the 25 years of that 4000% increase fell, on average, by less than 1% a year. Emissions from the generating sector dropped 6% a year, which is about 80% over the 25 years, which is great — but the rest of the economy kept growing and burning fossil fuels in cars and heating systems and factories and all that.

Looking at the chart he used for generation data, it appears that the growth in nuclear generation accounted for all of the growth in electricity consumption, while other fuel sources remained roughly constant. Obviously if nuclear were to replace existing generation then things would be rather different.

But then again, nukes are not very flexible plants. You have to have some flexible generation in your mix. Looking at Morton’s data (which is from Wikipedia and which I haven’t checked), less than 20% of France’s generation comes from non-nuclear sources. How much lower could that go, and still have the system remain manageable?

2 Responses to 'Is Nuclear Green?'

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  1. on September 28th, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Most nuclear units are designed to operate as full-time, baseload units, but at least a few analysts have concluded that it isn’t inherent in the technical characteristics so much as it is dictated by the economics (In too simple terms: high capital costs + low marginal operating cost = once operating, operate as much as possible).

    See, for example, the paper by Pouret and Nuttall, “Can Nuclear Power Be Flexible?”

  2. Cheryl said,

    on September 29th, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Mike:

    I’m sure that nukes can be flexible, but should we want them to? A nuclear power station humming along at a constant output is generally fairly safe. Start messing with the rods and all sorts of things could go wrong. I’m afraid that whenever I hear people suggesting that nukes could load-follow I have this mental vision of Homer Simpson getting instructions from a Wall Street trader.