The climate change challenge for nuclear energy

Nuclear power stations are a low-carbon means of generating electricity – producing comparatively little carbon dioxide during their working lifetime.

The problem

The carbon footprint of a nuclear power station – how much greenhouse gas it emits from construction through to decommissioning – is about 16 grams of carbon dioxide-equivalent for each kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates (gCO2e/kWh).

Uranium extraction accounts for 40% of emissions from nuclear power. Decommissioning creates 35%, while less than 1% of emissions arise during operation.

The size and generating capacity of a nuclear power station, its design and construction, the production of the fuel it uses through to the management of waste all contribute to its lifetime carbon footprint.

The solution

Nuclear power is already considered to be one of the lowest-carbon technologies for generating electricity, but eight of the nine nuclear power stations in the UK may close at some point between now and 2030. The UK Government intends to enable private companies to develop a new generation of nuclear power stations, and it is hoped that EDF Energy’s plant at Hinkley Point C will be the first of several new nuclear power stations built in the UK in the 2020s.

As with any large-scale electricity generation project, building a nuclear power station (including major renewables) inevitably produces carbon emissions. But once in operation, nuclear power stations produce little carbon dioxide (CO2).

Nuclear power is a major part of UK Government’s strategy to meet the country’s emissions targets and to improve the security of our electricity supply.