Is nuclear power really necessary

Nuclear power: no salvation for the climate

The BUND still considers nuclear power to be a highly dangerous dead end and not thought through from start to finish. There are no safe and inexpensive reactor types that could be available in the short time necessary for climate protection reasons, nor are questions of fuel production and "disposal" even rudimentarily resolved.

Nuclear power is not climate neutral

It is true that the actual production of electricity from nuclear energy hardly releases any greenhouse gases. However, nuclear power is by no means CO2-neutral - greenhouse gases are mainly emitted before and after electricity production. If you look at the entire life cycle - from uranium mining, fuel element production, power plant construction and dismantling to final storage - a lot of energy is used in the individual phases (pdf), which in turn leads to high greenhouse gas emissions.

Nuclear power plants are also very harmful to the climate and the environment in other ways.

Nuclear power plants as terrorist targets

Nuclear power plants are unsafe. This shows the long list of major accidents and accidents in reactors around the world. In recent years, increased terrorist attacks in the Global North have also brought into focus that nuclear power plants could become the target of terrorist attacks. No nuclear power plant is armed against targeted terrorist attacks. Earthquakes can also pose a threat to nuclear power plants in Germany. In addition, the ravages of time are gnawing at the reactors that are still running. The Neckarwestheim II nuclear power plant, as one of the last reactors still running in Germany, has been fighting with cracks in central components for several years.

Uranium mining destroys the environment

Uranium, the material from which nuclear power plants obtain their power, is a fossil and therefore finite energy carrier. The global uranium deposits will last for another 70 years with constant exploitation. If all plans to build new nuclear power plants worldwide become reality, the uranium deposits would be depleted in 18 years.

Uranium is mined with high resource consumption mainly in Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Niger, Namibia, Uzbekistan and the USA. For the German nuclear power plants alone, several hundred thousand tons of solid and liquid waste are produced each year. More than 85 percent of the resulting radioactivity remains in this waste.

The dismantling itself can damage the health of the workers involved. Nature suffers from water ingress and the resulting contamination of entire regions as well as from the enormous consumption of resources that arise from mining and further processing. Nuclear power can therefore by no means be described as “clean”.

No final repository for nuclear waste has yet been found

So far, there is no so-called repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste from commercial reactors in operation anywhere in the world. A plant is under construction in Finland, and location search processes are ongoing in several other countries. One of the main challenges in so-called final disposal is the half-life of radioactive substances. In a certain period of time, they lose half of their radiation due to decay, but never become harmless. For this reason, locations are being sought in Germany and Switzerland that promise the greatest possible security for a million years.

A large-scale search process is underway in Germany, in the course of which a location should be found by 2031.

Nuclear power is expensive

Nuclear power was and is a massively subsidized energy source. Between 2007 and 2019 alone, the overall social costs of nuclear power in Germany add up to 348 to 533 billion euros, according to the Ecological-Social Market Economy Forum (pdf). Today's reactors would not be economically viable without subsidies and electricity price guarantees. The new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Great Britain, originally estimated at 3 billion euros and now costing at least 27 billion euros, received a guaranteed feed-in tariff of 10.2 cents per kilowatt hour (plus inflation compensation). The money that goes into nuclear funding is logically no longer available for other purposes such as the expansion of environmentally friendly energy generation.

New reactor types would come too late

Even if new reactor types such as fusion reactors (see illustration) were to solve the questions of fuel, "disposal" and operational safety, they would be available too late. Functioning fusion reactors, science and industry promise, should be ready for use by 2050.

But climate neutrality - and with it the phasing out of the burning of fossil fuels - must be achieved long ago if we want to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees, if possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The types of reactors will therefore not play a role in the energy transition - and it cannot be assumed that the world will switch back to nuclear power from a system based on very cheap renewable energies.

Climate protection needs nuclear phasing out

The remaining German reactors continue to pose a significant safety risk and must be shut down as soon as possible. At the same time, the climate crisis requires a complete redirection of all investments towards climate-neutral and ecologically sustainable technologies. Retrofitting or even building a new one would tie up enormous financial resources, clog the grids with electricity from power plants that are difficult to control and thus slow down climate protection. Both the energy suppliers and large parts of politics have understood this.