Why not nuclear power?

In the face of growing energy-related problems such as climate change, acid rain and local air pollution, nuclear power has been promoted by interested industries and certain governments as a clean source of energy which could help to reduce energy-related human impact on the environment.

WWF strongly opposes this view.

Solutions to energy-related problems such as global warming can only deliver long-term benefits if they reduce instead of merely displace humanity’s damaging impacts on the environment. Nuclear energy is still unsafe – for both humans and nature. The argument that the world should re-embrace nuclear power is seriously flawed.

Replacing fossil fuel fired power stations with nuclear energy simply replaces one fundamental environmental problem with another. It is clear that nuclear power remains particularly dangerous and difficult to control. This has been demonstrated by the accidents at Chernobyl, Russia, in 1986 and at Tokaimura, Japan, in 1999.

WWF believes that nuclear power is not a sustainable source of energy because it is a huge safety risk:
  • The entire commercial chain of the processing of nuclear raw materials from nuclear mining; operating nuclear power stations; handling nuclear waste and finally re-processing, is full of leaks and contamination and produces a highly toxic legacy for thousands of years to come.

  • The creation and handling of highly toxic nuclear products and the unsolved issue of safe storage of waste demonstrates the unsustainability of the technology.

There are also primarily economic reasons that prevent nuclear from being a viable alternative to combat climate change:
  • Investment in nuclear power projects can drain badly-needed funds from energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes, most of which have substantially lower specific greenhouse gas abatement costs than nuclear energy.

  • Nuclear technology does not create incentives for energy savings. It is a ‘base-load’ technology whose energy output runs continuously and cannot be adjusted to specific consumer and industrial demand.

Focusing on nuclear power will block innovation in the power supply sector and in demand side efficiency. It has an opportunity cost that is even bigger than the actual - huge - investment:

It needs to maintain large and inefficient power grid systems.
 
It displaces investment in more efficient small-scale power supply and energy services.

It limits employment opportunities to highly specialised staff in a very capital-intensive industrial sector.

Nuclear energy is more expensive compared to other energy supply options in most if not all cases. This is one of the main reasons why no new nuclear reactors - except one in Finland - are presently planned or under construction in the OECD until about 2010. Most of the power utilities with nuclear stations either receive direct or indirect subsidies from the state (such as British Energy in the UK, EdF in France). 
          
Expansion of nuclear power in many developing nations is sometimes a smokescreen to allow access to military nuclear raw materials. Global expansion of nuclear energy is, therefore, highly likely to breach or undermine compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Conclusion

WWF does not believe that nuclear power is the solution to global warming. In fact, WWF has a vision for the future which phases out the use of fossil fuel and nuclear in the share of energy use across the globe. This is both possible and necessary in order to ensure an environmentally sound, secure and peaceful future.
 / ©:
No way forward - nuclear energy is too costly in many ways.
©
 / ©: Wild Wonders of Europe / Inaki Relanzon / WWF
Click and download WWF's Energy Report
© Wild Wonders of Europe / Inaki Relanzon / WWF

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.