Differences in carbon emissions reduction between countries pursuing renewable electricity versus nuclear power


Two of the most widely emphasized contenders for carbon emissions reduction in the electricity sector are nuclear power and renewable energy. While scenarios regularly question the potential impacts of adoption of various technology mixes in the future, it is less clear which technology has been associated with greater historical emission reductions. Here, we use multiple regression analyses on global datasets of national carbon emissions and renewable and nuclear electricity production across 123 countries over 25 years to examine systematically patterns in how countries variously using nuclear power and renewables contrastingly show higher or lower carbon emissions. We find that larger-scale national nuclear attachments do not tend to associate with significantly lower carbon emissions while renewables do. We also find a negative association between the scales of national nuclear and renewables attachments. This suggests nuclear and renewables attachments tend to crowd each other out.

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Fig. 1: Graphical display of the moderating influence of GDP per capita on the effect of nuclear electricity production on CO2 emissions.
Fig. 2: Graphical display of bivariate relationships between nuclear and renewable electricity production.
Fig. 3: Construction lead times and opportunity costs for nuclear and renewable power plants.

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All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article and its Supplementary Information.


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Author information




B.K.S. and A.S.: conceptualization; investigation; methodology; project administration; supervision; validation; writing, reviewing and editing of manuscript. P.S. and G.W.: conceptualization; data curation; formal analysis; methodology; validation; visualization; writing, reviewing and editing of manuscript. G.M.: writing, reviewing and editing of manuscript.

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Correspondence to Benjamin K. Sovacool.

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Sovacool, B.K., Schmid, P., Stirling, A. et al. Differences in carbon emissions reduction between countries pursuing renewable electricity versus nuclear power. Nat Energy (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-020-00696-3

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