Nuclear has long been the bogeyman of the environmental lobby, but the real challenge is elsewhere.
Is nuclear power green? For much of the environmental lobby this is not a subject for discussion but an emphatic no. It is abundantly clear that the challenging waste materials nuclear power produces and the potential for rare disaster mean it is forever to be cast as an extremely dangerous and polluting source of energy by some.
So much is evident from the latest efforts of Greenpeace to remove nuclear power from the EU’s taxonomy of sustainable investments. Eight Greenpeace organisations have sent a formal request for an internal review to the European Commission questioning its decision to add nuclear power to this list. They are taking action against the EU’s move, which opens up nuclear to so-called green investment. The Commission has until February to respond and the green group says it will take the case to the European Court of Justice if nuclear power is not withdrawn from the taxonomy.
At the same time as Greenpeace launches its challenge, UN Secretary General Anto´nio Guterres was also seeking justice, calling on nations to impose windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies which are raking in what many regard as excess and excessive profits as a result of soaring gas prices.
Guterres argues that the “polluters must pay” saying that fossil fuel companies, their investors and enablers are to be put on notice that times are changing. In a coruscating speech to the UN general assembly at their New York headquarters, Guterres said the funds raised from the taxes “should be re-directed... to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis.”
It is true that the damage caused by extreme weather events are disproportionately hitting the world’s poorest, but record-breaking heatwaves, floods and droughts do not discriminate – we’re all on notice that times are changing. And, with a cost-of-living crisis raging, security of energy supply in doubt right across Europe and the world more or less on fire, there is surely no question that times have indeed already changed.
What role does nuclear power play? It is irrefutably an important part of the solution to these multiple challenges. And while certainly, waste management is an issue that must be addressed, when compared with the impact of climate change, the costs and challenges of nuclear waste management are frankly trivial. Simply consider the impact of global warming and the associated costs being collectively shouldered by society against the total costs of decommissioning, decontamination and long-term disposal of the entire global nuclear fleet. Then imagine those collective costs growing exponentially as climate change wreaks ever more havoc across the globe. Guterres was clear: “The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. It must be the first priority of every government and multilateral organisation. And yet climate action is being put on the back burner – despite overwhelming public support around the world.”
Climate action must also be the priority of the green lobby too. Unlike nuclear waste management, global warming is unquestionably an existential crisis. Opening his speech with the words: “Our world is in big trouble,” Guterres also identified the main culprit – it’s not nuclear.
By David Appleyard, Editor, Nuclear Engineering International