[UPDATED 28/11/2016] A press release published by the University of Sussex itself announced on November 25 that the research paper that was the subject of this article had been withdrawn by its authors “after errors were discovered that invalidate its conclusions.” A separate press release from the authors of the paper was released on November 25, stating the following:
“The grounds for this are that it has come to our attention that two serious errors were committed by the first author (AL) on this paper. The second (BS) and third (AS) authors entirely failed to identify and correct these errors prior to publication. Of course, all three authors share joint responsibility for this paper, and apologize to readers of Climate Policy for our omission of oversight.
Together, the errors have the effect of invalidating this particular analysis concerning the relative performance of nuclear-committed European countries in wider climate change.”
[Original Story] A new study of European countries has found that countries with strong commitments to nuclear energy are making slow progress when it comes to their climate change targets.
The new study, published in the journal Climate Policy and authored by researchers at the University of Sussex and the Vienna School of International Studies, showed that progress towards reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy sources has been higher in countries without nuclear energy or in countries with plans to reduce their existing nuclear capacity.
On the flip-side, countries with nuclear energy or those intending to hold onto their nuclear capacity are making slower progress, and have been lagging behind in implementing wind, solar, and hydropower technologies for the purpose of reducing carbon emissions.
The authors of the study note that “it’s difficult to show a causal link” between the two factors, but nevertheless “the study casts significant doubts on nuclear energy as the answer to combating climate change.”
“Looked at on its own, nuclear power is sometimes noisily propounded as an attractive response to climate change,” said Professor Andy Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the University of Sussex. “Yet if alternative options are rigorously compared, questions are raised about cost-effectiveness, timeliness, safety and security.
“Looking in detail at historic trends and current patterns in Europe, this paper substantiates further doubts. By suppressing better ways to meet climate goals, evidence suggests entrenched commitments to nuclear power may actually be counterproductive.”
The study divided European countries into three roughly equal size groups:
- Group 1: No nuclear energy (such as Denmark, Ireland, and Norway)
- Group 2: Existing nuclear commitments but with plans to decommission (e.g. Germany, Netherlands and Sweden)
- Group 3: Plans to maintain or expand nuclear capacity (eg Bulgaria, Hungary, and the UK)
The resulting analysis found that countries in Group 1 had reduced their emissions by an average of 6% since 2005, and increased their renewable energy sources to 26%. Countries in Group 2 did even better, reducing emissions by 11% and growing renewable energy to 19%. Group 3 countries, however, only managed a 16% renewables share, and average emissions actually increased by 3%.
Unsurprisingly, given its size and past renewable energy successes, the United Kingdom is described as a “mixed picture.” Emissions have dropped by 16%, but only 5% of the country’s energy is coming from renewables — among the lowest in all of Europe. The authors behind the research conclude that “the gigantic investments of time, money and expertise in nuclear power plants, such as the proposed Hinckley Point C in the UK, can create dependency and ‘lock-in’ — a sense of ‘no turning back’ in the nation’s psyche.”
“The analysis shows that nuclear power is not like other energy systems,” said Professor Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy and Director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex. “It has a unique set of risks, political, technical and otherwise, that must be perpetually managed.
“If nothing else, our paper casts doubt on the likelihood of a nuclear renaissance in the near-term, at least in Europe.”
“As the viability of the proposed Hinkley plant is once again cast into doubt by the May government, we should recall that — as is true of nuclear fallout — nuclear power’s inordinate expense and risks extend across national borders and current generations,” said Lead author Andrew Lawrence of the Vienna School of International Relations. “Conversely, cheaper, safer, and more adaptable alternative energy sources are available for all countries.”