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The Ethics & Considerations Around Investment in Nuclear Energy

Data from Statista suggests that nuclear energy has the lowest death rate (per terawatt hour produced), yet the common discourse around nuclear energy continues to be an ongoing discussion.

From the data, there are a few observations that we can very easily make about energy overall:

  • Nuclear power is one of (if not) the safest and cleanest (as determined by emissions) methods of producing electricity currently available.

  • This is primarily due to the relationship between air pollution related deaths and the preceding health complications from toxic gases on the emissions side and the production process (such as accidents on the supply-side).

  • The estimates for the deaths from conventional fossil fuels are very conservative as the data is based on power plants in Europe which have tight emissions controls and the modelling around the health effects of air pollution are a little dated.

Given this, it is clear that Nuclear is safer and cleaner than traditional sources of energy; however, how does it compare to renewables? It seems that they all have similar safety levels and any differences in the data focus on one-off events.

The primary differences seem to be around 2 main themes. The first is energy security/capacity, the second is the long-term implications of energy production. In the former, Nuclear energy has an upper hand as its ability to produce energy is uninterrupted and not variable unlike with wind, solar and hydro. As a result, the energy storage (limited battery capacity) issue is mostly eliminated.

A risk of Nuclear proliferation has been cited as a potential issue. The risks of nuclear fuel being turned into nuclear weapons seem to be quite overstated in popular culture as the methods to actually achieve that are incredibly difficult it would seem. Britannicahighlights the two feasible methods which both have huge technical and security constraints for any group wanting to undertake such efforts.

This leaves ethically minded investors with a though challenge when it comes to asset allocation. There are further arguments both for and against; however, the perspective we gain is that nuclear might not perhaps be the ultimate solution; however, it is an incredibly powerful source of energy (nuclear reactors run above 90% of capacity all the time) that would remove or mitigate our current climate challenge at the cost of increased waste for which further solutions can be developed.

The data sources included are to highlight the short/medium-term risks of energy production (as the long-term climate risk is hard to currently quantify). Additionally, investment in Nuclear energy presumes the maximisation of current technology and does not consider any potential developments as time passes (IAEA Report).

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