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Sustainability Assessment of Nuclear Power in the UK Using an Integrated Multi-Criteria Decision-Support Framework


PhD Project Details

Project Leader: Professor Adisa Azapagic

Project Duration: September 2008 - September 2011.

Project Overview

In the UK, debate surrounding energy production lies at the forefront of the political agenda, with growing emphasis on achieving an increasingly sustainable energy mix into the future. The nuclear option is especially debatable - issues such as waste management and decommissioning receive much attention. In addition, the many stakeholders interested in nuclear power display very divergent views on its sustainability. Since the turn of the century, nuclear power has received much attention globally, with many nations’ governments taking consideration of the potential benefits of new nuclear adoption. Conversely, the Fukushima nuclear disaster has led to new nuclear resistance in other nations, such as Germany, where plans have been made to stop nuclear power generation completely.

This research has aimed to help inform the debate on nuclear power and the future UK electricity mix. A multi-criteria decision support framework (developed by the SPRIng Project – www.springsustainability.org) has been used for these purposes, taking into account technical, economic, environmental and social criteria. The methodology used in this work has involved: stakeholder consultation; use of future electricity scenarios; sustainability assessment of current and future electricity options (Pressurised Water Reactor, European Pressurised Reactor, European Fast Rector, coal, gas, solar and wind power, and coal carbon capture and storage [CCS] power); assessment of future electricity scenarios based on both sustainability impacts and stakeholder (expert and public) preferences for the sustainability indicators and electricity technologies. The sustainability assessment of future nuclear power options and coal CCS power have been carried out here for the first time in a UK-specific context.

Based on the public and expert opinions on the importance of different sustainability indicators, results of the scenario analysis suggest that the scenario with a high penetration of low-carbon technologies (nuclear [60%] and offshore wind power [40%]) is the most sustainable. For the sample considered in this study, this finding is not sensitive to different stakeholder and public opinions on the importance of the sustainability indicators. However, when the stakeholder preferences for individual technologies are considered, scenarios with high penetration of renewables (26-40% solar and 20-48% wind) become the preferred options. This is due to the favourable stakeholder opinion on solar and wind power. In that case, the scenario with high penetration of nuclear is never the preferred option due to the low to moderate stakeholder preference for nuclear power.

Therefore, the results from this research suggest that the ‘sustainability’ of different electricity options and scenarios is highly dependent on stakeholder preferences and priorities. Thus, for successful future deployment of these options and implementation of energy policy measures, transparency of information on the impacts of electricity options is key in ensuring that stakeholder opinions are founded in the actual rather than the perceived impacts of these options.

This project is completed and the PhD dissertation can be found here.

For More Information

The primary contact for this project is Professor Adisa Azapagic.

All group members involved in this project: