In March, at the Nuclear Energy Summit in Brussels, leaders of a number of pro-nuclear European countries and organisations called for a nuclear energy revival as part of the aim to meet low-carbon climate targets.

Speaking to reporters at the conference, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), stated that there are three reasons why nuclear power is making a comeback – its ability to generate electricity with no emissions; its price and supply stability; and a renewed understanding of the value of electricity among European nations following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While acknowledging the huge capital cost and poor record of nuclear power plants being completed on time, Birol emphasised: “Without the support of nuclear power, we have no chance to reach our climate targets on time,” adding: “We need to do whatever we can do to increase the current nuclear capacity, which is currently less than 10% of global electricity generation.”

Despite the increased energy security nuclear power could give European countries, Energy Monitor found that opinions about it as a source remain mixed among industry experts and stakeholders.

Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK

“We are seeing relentless government calls for investment in new nuclear precisely because those calls are not being answered as much as they want, and there are several very good reasons for that. Every generation of nuclear reactors starts life with a lot of hype about how this time, finally, nuclear energy will be cheap. This is not true for any of the previous generations, or, so far as we know, for those yet to come. The only reactor currently being built in the UK will produce electricity at double the cost of renewable power, and small modular reactors (SMRs) – the generation still in the hype phase of development – look like they will be more expensive still, with the US’ first certified and commissioned SMR project already having been cancelled due to spiralling costs.

On top of this apparently unbreakable trend for nukes to just get more and more expensive, we can add the production of radioactive waste, decommissioning costs and the enormous and ever-expanding construction time necessary to build a reactor, and it becomes clear that the economic case for nuclear just isn’t there. That is why no one wants to invest in them.

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“But they are low carbon, so should we grit our teeth and accept the huge and growing costs as necessary to save the climate? This would be the case if they were the only potential source of low-carbon electricity, or the cheapest or the fastest, but there are many others, and they are all a lot cheaper, faster, safer, more easily scalable and more popular both with investors and the wider public than nuclear reactors.

“As is energy storage, a range of technologies that have received an enormous amount of investment in recent years, which has translated into battery costs plummeting at a faster rate than even solar panels managed to achieve and a varied range of long-term grid-scale storage options, from the old and simple, like pumped hydro, to high-tech breakthroughs in battery chemistry and the production of green hydrogen, a versatile, energy-dense fuel that can also be used for storage.

“We are switching from an energy ecosystem running largely off invariable baseload power, where integrating intermittent renewables like wind and solar looked difficult, to a flexible smart grid where monolithic generators like reactors are the misfits that need special protections and subsidies from the state to survive in a market they are not suited to. Anyone considering chucking a few billion at a new reactor knows the risks they are going to be exposed to, hence the complete absence of investors queuing up to fund a nuclear renaissance.”

Sue Quense, CCO at AVEVA

“As the world seeks out sustainable energy solutions to combat climate change, nuclear energy offers a reliable, efficient method of power generation. It is a means of meeting the energy requirements of a growing population without the need to emit the same level of emission by-products as hydrocarbons.

“While past accidents have fed public mistrust in nuclear energy, digital transformation and technology have made today’s facilities safer than ever. Advanced technologies reduce the risks of accidents to near zero while allowing plants to function with greater safety and efficacy.

“For example, AI and machine learning can build models that predict the potential for future accidents with increasing accuracy, while data analytics, fed by Internet of Things sensors, can both gather and analyse information coming in from a number of sources in a plant. Nearly 70 years after the world’s first nuclear power station began operating, this means of sustainable energy generation has never been more valuable.”

Sam Hollister, head of energy economics and finance at LCP Delta

“Nuclear energy needs to form a core part of the UK’s decarbonisation strategy if we are to meet our net-zero goals by 2050. Not only will this ensure diversification across our energy system, but it will also prove to be a reliable power source that can supplement an increasingly weather-dependent power system.

“The UK Government currently has an ambition to deploy up to 24GW of nuclear power capacity by 2050. Yet, as LCP Delta analysis indicates, with only two nuclear plants in the works (Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C), more nuclear projects need to be brought forward if this 24GW goal is to become a reality.

“It is essential that we speed up the delivery of nuclear. Failing to do so means we run the risk of neglecting the UK’s future energy security.”

Malin Carlström, general partner at Climentum Capital

“Unlike renewables such as wind and solar, nuclear power is a fossil-free technology that provides energy in the shape of both heat and electricity. It is also the baseload power source needed to offset the invariable spikes in output of renewables.

“Furthermore, nuclear addresses the crucial security of supply matter in two ways: firstly, it has a reliable power output, and, secondly, it offers a high-density fuel that can be stored in comparatively small spaces.”

Valentina Dedi, lead economic advisor at KBR Consulting International

“Today’s focus on climate pledges while ensuring an affordable and reliable energy supply has created a new momentum for nuclear energy. The latest global developments, and especially following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have prompted governments to rethink their energy strategies, and nuclear energy is now firmly back on the table as countries look to strengthen their national energy security and decarbonise their economies.

“In a historic milestone, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28), which took place in Dubai in December 2023, concluded with a strong consensus on the role nuclear energy can play in helping nations reach their net-zero targets, with more than 22 countries committing to triple nuclear power capacity by 2050.

“Nuclear energy is an important low-emission source, delivering significant volumes of electricity. A single large-scale reactor, for example, can produce more than 1,600MW of power – the largest of any technology. By comparison, hydropower which has the next largest capacity, can produce around half the amount of nuclear, up to about 800MW, according to the IEA.

“Nuclear energy can also contribute to the secure operation of the electricity system, acting as a baseload source and complementing the increased deployment of wind and solar as governments around the world accelerate the uptake of renewable energy.

“However, the transition pathway and decision to pursue nuclear energy as part of the energy mix should be based on each country’s own unique energy resource state, in tandem with their economic, social and environmental circumstances. Nuclear plants are large complex construction works, highly capital-intensive, requiring a significant skilled workforce and involving long lead times.

“Nuclear energy can be an effective way for countries to lower their emissions where alternative sources are not conducive, or where governments have the financial capacity and technical know-how to support such projects to achieve their energy transition goals. But it might not be considered as a priority for countries which lack the requisite financial capital and policy or where there is a stronger economic and strategic rationale to prioritise less capital-intensive or faster-to-adopt alternatives.”