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Nuclear Versus Coal plus CCS: a Comparison of Two Competitive Base-Load Climate Control Options


In this paper, we analyze the relative importance and mutual behavior of two competing base-load electricity generation options that each are capable of contributing significantly to the abatement of global CO2 emissions: nuclear energy and coal-based power production complemented with CO2 capture and storage (CCS). We also investigate how, in scenarios developed with an integrated assessment model that simulates the economics of a climate-constrained world, the prospects for nuclear energy would change if exogenous limitations on the spread of nuclear technology were relaxed. Using the climate change economics model World Induced Technical Change Hybrid, we find that until 2050 the growth rates of nuclear electricity generation capacity would become comparable to historical rates observed during the 1980s. Given that nuclear energy continues to face serious challenges and contention, we inspect how extensive the improvements of coal-based power equipped with CCS technology would need to be if our economic optimization model is to significantly scale down the construction of new nuclear power plants.

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    More recently, some modeling assumptions fed into the MIT scenarios were revised: Nuclear power is now projected to increase more rapidly than in previous studies (see [13]).

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    For more details, see, e.g., Bosetti et al. [1] and the model’s website at

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    The half time of atmospheric CO2 is roughly 100 years, and the lifetime of a power plant can surpass half a century.

  4. 4.

    A higher CO2 capture rate or the use of CCS in conjunction with biomass would allow CCS to remain competitive in a stringent climate scenario beyond 2050.

  5. 5.

    This could be achieved either by improving CO2 capture technology or by co-firing coal with biomass.


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Correspondence to Massimo Tavoni.

Additional information

This paper is a contribution to the project “PLANETS,” funded by the European Commission under the seventh framework program.

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Tavoni, M., van der Zwaan, B. Nuclear Versus Coal plus CCS: a Comparison of Two Competitive Base-Load Climate Control Options. Environ Model Assess 16, 431–440 (2011).

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  • Economic competition
  • Electricity sector
  • Nuclear power
  • Coal power
  • CCS
  • Renewables
  • Climate policy

JEL Classification

  • D8
  • D9
  • H0
  • O3
  • O4
  • Q4
  • Q5