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Nuclear Power Vs. Renewable Energy: Benefits, Costs, and Potentials

As we dive into the world of energy production, nuclear power and renewable energy sources often take centre stage in our discussions. Both have their unique advantages, but it's the contrasts that spark debate. Nuclear energy, for instance, has a significant edge in terms of reliability and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It's a constant source of power, unaffected by whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

However, it's not all rosy for nuclear power. The construction costs associated with nuclear plants make it a more expensive option compared to renewables. Even though nuclear fusion could potentially reduce these costs, it's still struggling to compete with the affordability of wind, solar, and geothermal energy. So, as we delve deeper, let's keep these points in mind.

Benefits of Nuclear Power

Right off the bat, it's essential to mention the significant economic benefits nuclear power can offer. Every nuclear power plant construction project fosters an economic surge, primarily through the creation of many high-paying jobs. This surge doesn't cease with the completion of construction; the plant's operation continues to provide stable, well-paying jobs.

To illustrate, let's take France and Sweden as prime examples. In France, nuclear power caters to 75% of electricity needs while Sweden meets about 50% through the same source. That wouldn't be possible without firm commitment to nuclear research, development, support from political environments, and admittedly, favourable geographic locations.

But the economic benefits are not the sole perks of nuclear power. It's crucial to note the low carbon emissions, a standout characteristic of nuclear energy that it shares with renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal energy - bringing us one step closer to a decarbonised future.

To put things into perspective, burning natural gas, a widespread alternative, produces about half the carbon dioxide of burning coal. However, switching from coal to nuclear power takes decarbonising to a whole new level. Owing to nuclear fission, energy production from nuclear power plants is devoid of carbon output. Hence, emissions are restricted to ancillary uses.

The business world isn't insulated from these benefits - 'commercial electricity rates' can enjoy a beneficial dip with the intervention of nuclear power. This is due to the high energy output that nuclear power plants can produce from minimal uranium input.

So, cost-effectiveness? Check. Lower emissions? Check. High stable job generation? Check. It looks like nuclear power might just have more up its sleeve than we give it credit for. Surely, each energy source has its advantages and disadvantages. But when it comes to nuclear power, it seems the benefits are quite compelling.


Advantages of Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable energy has made remarkable strides in the last decade. Its growth is reshaping the way we power our homes, businesses and so much more. I'll dive into the benefits of renewables over fossil fuels and how they're giving nuclear power a run for its money.

One of the most prominent advantages of renewable energy is its inexhaustibility. Whether it's wind in the UK or sun in Australia, these resources are limitless compared to fossil fuels. This guarantees a steady energy source that won't run out and that can provide consistently lower business electricity rates.

It's also worth noting the reliability of renewables. The more a country counts on diverse renewable sources for electricity, the more reliable it becomes. This elevated reliance on renewable energy also improves its dispatchability, the ability to deliver power on demand. While it's true that nuclear power is deemed as a dependable source, the growth and consistency in renewable energy are challenging this notion.

Renewable energy is also ahead with its rapidly improving storage solutions. According to Bloomberg NEF, the global energy storage market is expected to increase 15 times by 2030 compared to its size in 2021. This remarkable development promises to further enhance the reliability of renewable energy.

In conjunction with all these developments, the costs associated with renewable energy are dropping remarkably. For instance, the price of essential components such as lithium-ion energy batteries has decreased by as much as 97% since 1991 and continues to fall. This price drop has made renewable energy more affordable and accessible for businesses and households alike.

Overall, renewable energy is proving to be a competitive, reliable, and sustainable power source. With the continued advancements in technology and falling costs, renewable energy is emerging as the energy source for a decarbonised future.

Reliability and GHG Emissions of Nuclear Power

One important factor to consider when contrasting nuclear power to renewables is the level of reliability. Nuclear power shines in this aspect, offering a steady stream of power regardless of the conditions. Whether the wind is blowing, the sun is shining, or not, nuclear plants continue producing energy.

Nuclear energy's consistent output means businesses and households can trust in a constant supply of electricity, potentially leading to lower business electricity rates. This consistency, compared with the intermittency of wind and solar, highlights nuclear energy's role as a valuable player in our diverse energy mix.

Another point where nuclear power stands tall is its cleanliness, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Often dubbed as one of the cleanest energy sources, nuclear power's emission levels are comparable to those of renewables, as several studies have confirmed.

Recent research published in the Journal of Cleaner Production found the emissions associated with nuclear power generation are similar to that of renewable energy sources. An analysis by the European Commission echoes this sentiment, suggesting that emissions from nuclear are around the same as wind when considering full-cycle production.

Other studies suggest nuclear power might even be cleaner than solar, generating four times fewer GHGs. According to nuclear physicist and supporter Manfred Lenzen, the average lifecycle emissions for nuclear energy stand at about 60 gCO2/kWh, while wind ranges from 10-20 gCO2/kWh.

Energy Source

Average Lifecycle Emissions (gCO2/kWh)





Natural Gas


However, these figures are based on mining high-grade uranium ore, emphasizing the importance of considering the full lifecycle of energy sources.

This highlights that while nuclear may have its advantages in reliability and GHG emissions, it's not an end-all solution. Both nuclear and renewables have their roles to play in the push towards a decarbonised future. The key is achieving an effective, sustainable energy mix that leverages the strengths of all sources.

Cost Comparison between Nuclear Power and Renewable Energy

Taking a look at the economics of nuclear power versus renewable energy, it's crystal clear that cost factors play a massive role in determining their feasibility and adoption.

When we compare the costs of generating each type of power, the numbers speak volumes. Solar power comes in between 36 to 44 per MWh, while onshore wind power stands at 29.56 per MWh. In stark contrast, nuclear energy ranges from 112 to 189 per MWh. These figures echo the findings from the "World Nuclear Industry Status Report".

If we dive a little deeper and examine levelised costs - an effective measure that compares the complete lifetime cost of constructing and running a plant to its lifetime output - there are notable trends. Over the past decade, the levelised costs for utility-scale solar have seen a tremendous drop of about 88%, with wind not far behind at 69%.

Energy type

Levelised costs reduction over the past decade (%)





Source: World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

Unfortunately, nuclear has not followed the same trend. In fact, its levelised costs have gone up by about 23%, making it significantly less cost-effective.

Taking our comparison to Europe, a study by Greenpeace France and the Rousseau Institute uncovered that power from the under-construction European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) at Flamanville in France would be three times as expensive as the country's most competitive renewable sources.

French strategies have sought to offset this cost by selling excess nuclear energy to neighbouring countries, a technique not dissimilar to Australia's approach in soaking up its surplus baseload coal energy with cheap off-peak water heating.

Another critical cost consideration is that of subsidies. A common misconception is that nuclear energy receives fewer subsidies than renewable energy.
 However, levelised costs of energy (LCOE) estimates based on pre-2014 data from the IPCC and pre-2015 data from Lazard put nuclear LCOE estimates at 108/MWh and 97-132 MWh respectively. It's worth noting that the IPCC cost estimate does not take subsidies into account, while the Lazard estimate includes US federal government subsidies, excluding loan guarantees and decommissioning.

The Potential of Nuclear Fusion Technology

Next-generation nuclear technologies, like small modular reactors (SMRs), have sparked my interest lately. The inherent safety features, passive cooling, and meltdown-proof designs these advanced reactors promise could significantly boost current levels of safety and performance. There are even advancements in new manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing of reactor parts, which could improve constructability, proving that innovation is driving the potential of nuclear energy forward.

Another promising nuclear solution taking shape is the technology for reusing spent fuel. Tapping into this could unlock additional energy resources. However, it's crucial to remember that such technology is still in the development stage, and there's room for governments to encourage it through funding for research and development, public-private partnerships, and early deployment grants.

Standardisation of reactor designs could play an instrumental role in the manufacturing of SMRs. This would provide the perk of economies of scale. However, to keep up the pace of nuclear technology operation and development, there needs to be continued activity. Given the relatively slow deployment of nuclear technology in recent years, skills and technical knowhow risk erosion without consistent use and progression.

An important point to note is the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to water stress. Due to their heavy dependence on water for cooling, spikes in temperature and warming rivers can potentially weaken the cooling efficiency of power plants and their equipment. Therefore, it's clear that constant monitoring and suitable adaptations are necessary to ensure consistent performance.

Looking at nuclear energy as a cog in the larger machinery of sustainable energy, there's undoubtedly potential for it to play a significant role in the future. However, there are still hurdles to clear to compete with the cost-effectiveness and accessibility of renewable resources like solar and wind power. Future-oriented research and innovative technologies are indeed the guiding lights to a vibrant, sustainable energy future.

In Summary

So, I've taken you through the ins and outs of nuclear power and renewable energy. We've seen that while nuclear energy is a reliable source with low greenhouse emissions, it's also more expensive to construct and faces stiff competition from affordable renewables like wind, solar and geothermal energy.

Moreover, while nuclear fusion and small modular reactors (SMRs) hold promise, they're still in the development stages. It's clear that nuclear power has its benefits, including job creation and lower business electricity rates, yet it remains vulnerable to water stress.

On the flip side, renewables are gaining traction, thanks to their affordability and sustainability. As we move forward, it's crucial to weigh these factors, alongside technological advancements, to determine the best energy sources for our future. The choice isn't simple, but it's one we must make wisely for the sake of our planet.