A dead end pathway to decarbonization

[New released EU long-term strategy fails to understand pivotal role of nuclear power]

Several eyes-opening events happened worldwide recently: a new IPCC report that grudgingly admitted that in order to limit global temperature warming to 1.5°C nuclear power must play an increasingly important role; the first ever mass public event in favor of nuclear power, the Nuclear Pride Fest held in Munich on October 21st [1]; clear political signals sent by Netherland and Poland and, on top, from the pro-nuclear referendum outcome in Taiwan.

After all that we would have expected the European institutions to show more acumen.

And yet, the new long-term strategy to reduce carbon emissions, presented to the press on November 28th and depicting 8 different scenarios to a deep decarbonization (ranging from 80% to 100% emission reduction), does not shows any novelty and relegate nuclear power to an ancillary role of renewables and natural gas.

If the flattening words with which nuclear power is depicted through the main document – zero-carbon power source and a backbone of EU power generation – may have boosted the self esteem of the European nuclear industry, the reality of the numbers envisioned for the European energy mix at 2050 surely fall short to anybody that take climate change threat and the decarbonization challenge seriously.

Substantially, the plan just reaffirms the roadmap that has been already traced by previous energy policies, raising the level of projected emissions reduction through the combination of electrification, efficiency and… more renewables, with a side of ancillary assumptions about storage and hydrogen production, carbon sequestration, waste recycling and diet changes that are way to unaccountable to be even commented.

What – sadly – all scenarios have in common is the overall reduction of nuclear power capacity to values that range between 99 and 121 GW (it was 122 GW in 2015). This is at odds with the estimates made by the same ICTP report, that sees a global increase in nuclear capacity in its 1.5°C scenarios, the same scenarios the EU pathway claim to acknowledge as a wake-up call [2], and at odds with all the nice words spent on nuclear power through the document.

Fig. 1       Power generation capacity by source as projected at 2050 through 8 different scenarios. The share of nuclear power is substantially the same in all scenarios, comparable or even lower than fossil fuels share.

Overall, all the scenarios “spectacularly” (this the term used many times through the document, proof of its technological neutrality) increase the share of wind and solar, even reducing to a marginal share hydroelectric and biomasses that today constitute the backbone of EU renewable generation and the sole sources that offer some degree of reliability against the intermittency of solar and wind. Even futuristic technologies, like biomass and fossil production with carbon capture (BECCS and Fossil Fuel CCS in fig. 1) find an appreciable role in some of the scenarios. How should not only coal, but also natural gas go out of the scene with massive wind and solar production while facts have – up today – proven the contrary, is most likely encrypted in the fairy-tale ancillary assumptions mentioned before. First and foremost, a more than spectacular (now the adjective is ours, nda) increase in storage capacity: basically infinite growth for batteries and hydrogen storage with respect to present (fig.2).

Cherry on the top of your cake, as a result of massive electrification most of the scenarios predict a twofold or threefold increase in energy generation capacity.

Fig. 2       Electricity storage and new fuel production capacities at 2050.

In conclusion, the eight scenarios presented by the European Commission as a pathway to deep decarbonization are basically the same scenario that led Germany’s Energiewende [3] to increased electricity costs and stagnant emission that will most likely cause the country to fail the decarbonization target set for 2020. A scenario built, as most of EU energy policies to indiscriminately push the growth of solar and wind power regardless of any other – possibly more effective and more cost effective – option on the table [4]. This scenario is the nightmare in which nuclear European advocates like us woke up today, after dreaming of a nuclear renaissance based on recent global trends. But we do not give up, and we are more determined than ever to bring to the public attention the pivotal role of nuclear power in a transition to clean energy future. The graph below (fig. 3) shows that indeed it is a hard task that we must undertake, for the sake of Europe and of the Planet.

Fig. 3       Stakeholders consultation results about the role of different technologies in the Clean Energy Transition (1=not important; 5=important).


[1]          See our article: Il nucleare in Europa potrebbe ripartire da Monaco (in Italian) or the page https://nuclearpridefest.org

[2]          Quote from the EU Commission press release: “In October, the IPCC special report on 1.5°C made it clear that emissions need to be reduced with far more urgency than previously anticipated and that limiting climate change to 1.5°C is necessary to reduce the likelihood of extreme weather events. This has been a wake-up call.” The full press release available here (last accessed November 29th, 2018).

[3]          Our articles about Energiewende (in Italian):

07/11/2016         La lignite del vicino è sempre più verde

20/12/2016         La vittoria di Pirro delle rinnovabili tedesche

23/02/2017         Energiewende dove vai?

11/01/2018         Sacrificati sull’altare del carbone

[4].       For what concerns Italy, we analyzed in a recent scientific paper the potential contribution of the nuclear source to deep decarbonization of the electric sector as opposed to the sole use of wind and solar, also in terms of reliability and land-use: Errani, P., Totaro, P., & Brandmayr, E. Nuclear Power In Italy: Lost And Potential Role In Decarbonizing The Electric System.





2 pensieri su “A dead end pathway to decarbonization

  1. Come scritto nell’articolo, il documento della Commissione spende tante belle parole per il nucleare, ma alla fine, numeri alla mano, propone degli scenari nei quali il suo contributo viene ridimensionato.
    Francamente, ci aspettavamo qualcosa di più coraggioso.


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