Is nuclear power a renewable energy?

Renewable energies are rightly considered an asset in the fight against climate change, as they only emit low levels of greenhouse gases. However, nuclear energy is also a low-carbon energy, as it emits 4 times less CO2 than solar power, 2 times less than hydroelectricity, and the same amount as wind power. So could nuclear power also be considered a renewable energy? It's a question worth asking.

What is a renewable energy?

nucléaire ernergie renouv 4

A renewable energy is constantly renewed. It is considered inexhaustible over time. The sources of renewable energy – the sun, the earth and the wind – are certainly inexhaustible, but they are available intermittently.

In France, renewable energy accounted for 27% of electricity consumption in 2020 (source: RTE). Although this figure is a record high, it remains low. On February 10, 2022, President Macron announced that he intended to double the production of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and "increase it still further by 2050". The France 2030 plan will see 1 billion euros dedicated to innovation in renewable energy.

Five types of renewable energy

Energie éolienne
Wind energy: windmills, onshore and offshore wind farms 
Energie solaire
Solar energy: photovoltaic, thermal or thermodynamic plants 
Energie hydraulique
Hydroelectricity: dams, tidal energy, marine current turbines, etc. 
La biomasse
Biomass energy: combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, methanization 
La géothermie
Geothermal energy: extraction of energy from the ground 

Is nuclear power renewable? 

A stock energy

Energie de stockNuclear energy is produced from uranium, which is a naturally radioactive ore. This abundant resource is found on all the continents, notably in the Americas (Canada, Brazil and the United States), Europe (Ukraine and Russia), Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China and Mongolia), Oceania (Australia) and Africa (Niger, Namibia and South Africa).

Although uranium is present in abundance on the planet, it is not inexhaustible. It is not reconstituted in the mines. This is why we talk about stock energy, as once this stock is exhausted, no more energy is available. 
However, uranium can be recycled and could therefore be included in a "recyclable energy" category if such a category existed (see below).

A low-carbon fissile energy 

Une énergie fissile bas carboneUnlike fossil fuels (gas, coal and oil), which are sources of CO2, nuclear power is a low-carbon energy. It is considered a fissile energy, i.e. one that results from the fission of atoms within the nuclear reactor, which produces a powerful chain reaction that can be used to supply the power grid continuously. 

A recyclable energy 

Energie recyclableAlthough nuclear power is not a renewable energy, it is still recyclable. Thanks to Orano’s technologies, unique in the world on an industrial scale, 96% of spent nuclear fuel in reactors is recyclable. MOX, an assembly produced from recycled spent fuel, has already been used to supply 44 reactors around the world.  In France, one in 10 light bulbs works thanks to recycled nuclear fuel. 

Nuclear + renewable energy = the ideal mix? 

Renouvelable + nucléaire

In 2021, the IPCC published its new assessment report, RTE published six scenarios for achieving the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 and COP26 took place in Glasgow with around 200 States parties in attendance. The message is clear: to limit global warming to +1.5°C, we must divest from fossil fuels and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. 

The production of low-carbon energy is a strategic priority to face up to the climate emergency. Electricity production is currently the main source of CO2 worldwide, due to the use of fossil fuels (coal and gas), and global energy needs are going to double by 2050. Although renewable energy has numerous advantages, it cannot be the sole response to the existing and future energy needs of 8 billion humans on earth. 

Renewable sources of energy can only be an asset for the climate if they supplement a powerful, low-carbon and demand-responsive source of energy such as nuclear power. Opposing nuclear and renewable energies seems pointless; combining them in fact looks to be the most sensible way forward for the future.

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