Nuclear power plant
yangna (iStock)

Nuclear Power

Reduce SourcesElectricityShift Production
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Billion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Nuclear power is slow, expensive, risky, and creates radioactive waste, but it has the potential to avoid emissions from fossil fuel electricity.

Solution Summary*

Nuclear plants use fission to split atomic nuclei and release the energy that binds protons and neutrons together. It is the most complex process ever invented to boil water, which powers steam turbines that generate electricity. Greenhouse gas emissions are calculated to be ten to a hundred times higher for coal-fired plants than for nuclear.

Currently, 29 countries have operative nuclear plants; they produce about 11 percent of the world’s electricity. Nuclear is expensive, and the highly regulated industry is often over-budget and slow. While the cost of virtually every other form of energy has gone down over time, nuclear is four to eight times higher than it was four decades ago.

With nuclear power, there is a climate dilemma: Is an increase in the number of nuclear power plants, with all their flaws and inherent risks, worth the gamble? Or, as some proponents insist, will there be a total meltdown of climate by limiting their use?

At Project Drawdown, we consider nuclear a regrets solution. It has potential to avoid emissions, but there are many reasons for concern: deadly meltdowns, tritium releases, abandoned uranium mines, mine-tailings pollution, radioactive waste, illicit plutonium trafficking, and thefts of missile material, among them.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

The complicated dynamics around safety and public acceptance of nuclear power will influence its future direction—of expansion or contraction. We assume its share of global electricity generation will change from the current 10.5 percent to figures of 8.6–13.2 percent depending on the total power generation scenarios considered. With a longer lifetime than fossil fuel plants resulting in fewer facilities overall, installation of nuclear power plants could represent marginal first costs of US$192 billion, despite the high implementation cost of US$8330 per kilowatt. Lifetime operating savings could reach US$345 billion. These scenarios could result in 2.7–3.2 gigatons of greenhouse gases emissions avoided.