For those who dutifully followed the trail of my anti-nuclear invective yesterday, you may perhaps, even now, despite the weight and depth of the arguments against nuclear power, have come to the reluctant conclusion that we still need it.

And the principal reason for people coming to that conclusion is because of nuclear power’s notional contribution to a low-carbon future – on the grounds that the ‘efficiency plus renewables plus storage’ alternative just won’t deliver enough low-carbon energy, and only nuclear can substitute for coal and gas at scale.

Well, I’m sorry to have to prick this final bubble of fond pro-nuclear hope: nuclear power is not ‘low carbon’.

So says Professor Keith Barnham, author of the hugely influential ‘The Burning Answer’. He’s just produced a new analysis of how much CO2 a nuclear reactor causes to be released, per unit of electricity. Here’s the headline conclusion:
“Far from coming in at 6 grams of CO2 per unit of electricity for Hinkley Point, as the Climate Change Committee believes, the true figure is probably well above 50 grams – breaching the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended limit for new sources of power generation beyond 2030.”

To be honest, you’ll need to read the whole paper yourself. (See below.) It’s a bit geeky (as you’d expect, given the fearsome complexity of the calculations involved, including detailed scrutiny of how data derived from umpteen life cycle analyses has been used and abused), but is well worth while the time it’ll take to get to grips with this all-important issue.

A lot of those calculations are to do with concentration of uranium ore: the less usable uranium there is per tonne of ore, the higher the amount of fossil fuels required to extract that uranium, and, therefore, the greater the amount of CO2 per unit of electricity eventually generated.

In the context of Hinkley Point, Barnham’s overall conclusion couldn’t be simpler:
“The claim that the carbon footprint of the EPRs planned for Hinkley Point will be as low as 6g CO2 / kWh, less even than hydropower, is wholly incredible.”

And he too is looking to the Austrians to dig us out of this particular nuclear hole: “The likely delay due to the Austrian appeal against the European Commission’s decision on the EPR subsidy offers the opportunity for a full, independent and peer-reviewed assessment of the environmental impact of this complex and expensive new technology.”