Sustainability Assessment of Nuclear Power: An Integrated Approach (SPRIng)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Chem Eng and Analytical Science


The early years of the 21st century have seen energy policy return to the political agenda both in the UK and internationally. Growing concerns about environmental, economic and social issues associated with energy production (climate change, the depletion of hydrocarbon resources, declining public trust in science and technology and increasing energy prices) have led to a reappraisal of the wider energy scene and of individual energy technologies. The return of various nuclear power options to the list of candidate technologies being actively considered is but one element of this change. One potential advantage of nuclear power is that it may help us to reduce CO2 emissions and therefore mitigate some of the climate change concerns, However, it is far from clear how sustainable the nuclear option is overall, compared to other generating options. Issues such as health and safety, investment risks, security, public trust and perception are also important for understanding of the full sustainability implications of nuclear generation. Furthermore, the nuclear power industry is faced with many uncertainties, including financial, technical and regulatory. Decommissioning and high-level waste disposal are prime examples of areas where these uncertainties exist. The public attitude toward nuclear power in general ranges from ambivalent to negative; there is, however, a growing public awareness and concern about the impacts of global warming which may start to influence the change in public opinion. Therefore, any decisions about the future of nuclear power will need to take into account these and other relevant issues, taking an integrated, balanced and impartial approach to evaluating the relative environmental, economic, social and political sustainability of nuclear power.This project proposes to develop such an integrated approach and apply it to sustainability appraisals of nuclear power relative to other energy options. The main objectives of the project are:1. development of a rigorous, robust and transparent multicriteria decision-support framework for sustainability assessment of energy options;2. sustainability assessments of the nuclear option within an integrated energy system;3. engagement with and communication of the results of research to relevant stakeholders.The outputs of the project will help to inform the debate on the future of nuclear power in the UK.


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Baker K (2012) Power failures: metagoverning a revival of nuclear power in Britain in International Journal of Sustainable Development

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Baker K (2012) Metagovernance and nuclear power in Europe in Journal of European Public Policy

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Baker K (2014) A Comparison of State Traditions and the Revival of a Nuclear Power in Four Countries in Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice

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Baker K (2009) Delivering Nuclear Power: Challenges for the Obama Administration in International Journal of Public Administration

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Baker K (2011) Assessing the prospects for a revival of nuclear power in Britain in Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part A: Journal of Power and Energy

Description This project considered the environmental, economic and social sustainability of different electricity options in the UK, from now up to 2070. The main findings were:
• To meet the GHG emission targets, carbon capture and storage (CCS) for coal power plants can only play a limited role, contributing 10% to the electricity mix at most; the use of CCS also increases other sustainability impacts compared to today, including worker injuries, large accident fatalities, depletion of fossil fuels, while needing a long-term storage of CO2. This calls into question the case for investing in coal CCS. The government has since cancelled the investment in CCS.
• A very low-carbon mix with nuclear and renewables provides the best overall environmental performance, but some impacts increase, such as terrestrial ecotoxicity. Such a mix also worsens some social issues such as health impacts from radiation and radioactive waste storage requirements. UK-based employment may more than double by 2070 if a renewables intensive mix is chosen. However, the same mix also increases depletion of minerals and metals nearly seven-fold relative to the present, emphasising the need for end-of-life recycling. Very low-carbon mixes also introduce considerable uncertainty due to grid instability.
• With equal importance assumed for each sustainability aspect, the electricity mix with an equal share of nuclear and renewables is considered most sustainable.
Exploitation Route The findings are particularly relevant to energy companies and policy makers who could use them to develop more sustainable electricity mix for the future.
Sectors Energy

Title SPRIng 
Description The SPRIng toolkit comprises: 1) Energy Technologies Life Cycle Assessment (ETLCA) - a tool for the estimation of life cycle environmental impacts of future UK electricity scenarios up to 2070. 2) SPRIng Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (SPRIng MCDA) - an MCDA decision-support tool for identifying sustainable electricity options based on different sustainability criteria and decision-makers' preferences. 3) Scenario Sustainability Assessment Tool (SSAT) - a spreadsheet tool for the estimation of full life cycle sustainability impacts (techno-economic, environmental and social) of future UK electricity scenarios. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact The toolkit has been used by researchers around the world.