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How much nuclear energy would be needed to replace European natural gas?
The scale of the challenge is large, but doable
The figure above shows the net energy consumption between nuclear power and natural gas (former minus the latter, expressed in Exajoules, data is 2020 from BP).
The data show that most countries in Europe rely much more on natural gas than they do nuclear energy. The annual balance in favor of gas is the greatest in Germany, and will get larger by about 0.5 EJ when its last 3 nuclear power plants are shut this year.
To get a sense of scale, how much nuclear energy would be required to replace all European natural gas?
Using France as a model, more than 250 nuclear reactors would be needed, implying something like 50 to 150 new nuclear power plants, depending on the capacity of each plant and number of reactors within each.
This seems like a big number. But it is also the equivalent of five times France’s current nuclear capacity, which was brought online over a period of about 15 years. So it is certainly doable, as it has been done before.
These numbers have obvious current geopolitical significance, but they also tell us something about the magnitude of the challenge of decarbonization. Achieving net-zero carbon dioxide means eliminating all natural gas emissions. I haven’t seen any serious policy proposals, from any government, for doing so. Nuclear energy is an obvious option for meeting at least some of this challenge.
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