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Climate Assets monthly update: Can nuclear be deemed sustainable?

Date: 07 July 2023

3 minute read

Fortunately, last month’s UK budget was not as disastrous as the previous one in September. The latest budget also shed some light on the government’s net zero plans. The UK chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, had his hand forced, in part, by US president Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the European Union’s Green Deal Industrial Plan. Hunt has focussed on growth areas and committed to ring-fence £20bn for carbon capture and storage technology development. A more disappointing announcement was that nuclear would be considered environmentally sustainable in the UK’s green taxonomy. Whereas other countries including Canada have not deemed nuclear sustainable – a view we share. There is an argument for needing nuclear to reach our net zero goals, however defining nuclear as sustainable will potentially do more harm than good.

Three types of waste

In 1987 the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  If you look at the nuclear power production process, there are three types of waste produced: low, intermediate, and high level. Low-level waste such as rags, tools or clothing is incinerated after use before disposal. Intermediate-level waste consists of chemical sludge or metal cladding which needs to be treated and stored in specialised containers deep underground for many years. High-level waste refers to the elements generated in the reactor core which are also stored underground if they cannot be recycled into new nuclear fuel rods. In our view none of these methods make the technology sustainable as it just pushes the problem down the road and arguably causes environmental damage.

There seems to have been a separation between what is sustainable and what is renewable, when really, they should be the same. A nuclear reactor needs to be refuelled every 18 to 24 months, whereas wind farms, for example, produce energy uninterrupted for 25-35 years, except for when the wind is not blowing. Unlike wind or solar power, nuclear’s ability to produce energy does not rely on the weather and will therefore improve reliability of the grid. The technology is also energy dense, meaning you do not need to run a nuclear reactor for that long to produce large amounts of energy. The reason the UK government need to class nuclear as sustainable is because it will spur on investment in a technology that doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions.

As renewable energy plays a crucial role in tackling climate change, ‘Clean Energy’ is one of the five investment themes of the Climate Assets Funds. We consider clean energy or environmentally sustainable technology to be renewable energy such as wind power, solar power or hydropower. These technologies, once in place, produce energy for the lifetime of the asset and after 30 odd years are decommissioned and replaced, with as much material being recycled as possible. For further information on this investment theme please read here.

Water is another investment theme for the Climate Assets Funds and one we have decided to address in our upcoming event. Please join us on Thursday 25 May at Farmers and Fletchers in the City for a conversation with environmental campaigner, Feargal Sharkey OBE, followed by drinks and canapes to address the issues around water consumption and conservation in the UK. Register here.

This is a marketing communication and is not independent investment research. Financial Instruments referred to are not subject to a prohibition on dealing ahead of the dissemination of marketing communications. Any reference to any securities or instruments is not a personal recommendation and it should not be regarded as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any securities or instruments mentioned. Investors should remember that the value of investments, and the income from them, can go down as well as up and that past performance is no guarantee of future returns. You may not recover what you invest.


Harry Gibbon

Investment Manager

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The Climate Asset Funds invests in companies that make a positive contribution to the world, with a strong underpinning of ethical values.

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The value of your investments and the income from them can fall and you may not recover what you invested.