Nuclear Energy is part of the solution to climate change

The Nuclear For Climate initiative brings together nuclear professionals from all over the world and gives them a common voice on climate change. This article explains why climate action is important, what it means for the energy sector, and how the nuclear community has united to address this challenge.

 By Valerie Faudon, Delegate General of SFEN

December 2015 marked a significant occasion as representatives of 196 countries gathered at the Conference Of Party talks in Paris adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate agreement. This seeks to limit the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels”. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon: “The Paris Agreement gives us Plan A for the planet – A for ambition”.

While it’s great to have a “Plan” for saving the world from the more dramatic impacts of climate change there is vey a long journey ahead and the path is not easy. Now countries must work together to reduce and eventually eliminate the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. A big part of course involves reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and switching to low-carbon energy alternatives.

One area where we know we can be successful in reducing climate emissions is in the production of electricity, since multiple low-carbon technology options are available today. At least 80% of the world’s electricity must be low-carbon by 2050 to keep the world below 2°C of warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. During the same period however, the needs for electricity is expected to double.  Meeting the twin objectives of reliably filling future energy demand while effectively limiting climate change is therefore a massive global challenge that requires the use of all available low-carbon energy technologies.  At the moment about 1.2 billion people in the world do not have adequate access to electricity.

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“It is wrong to pit renewables against nuclear power. We need all hands on deck.” declared Dr James Hansen, considered the father of climate change science, during a press conference at the climate talks held in Paris December last year. With these words he invited environmentalists and energy commentators to set aside their existing ideologies and embrace a technology neutral, pragmatic approach to solving the climate puzzle.

Only six countries in the world currently get more than 80% of their electricity from low-carbon sources – Brazil, Sweden Switzerland, France, Norway and Iceland. Of these, four countries rely on a combination of renewable and nuclear energy, while the other two (Norway and Iceland) are blessed with an abundance of hydropower or geothermal energy resources which other countries simply do not possess. France, which generated 76% of its electricity from nuclear and 17% renewables in 2015, shows just how adaptable nuclear energy is.

According to the International Energy Agency, the energy mix required to remain under 2°C by 2050 should include at least 17% of nuclear in global electricity supply. One would assume that to keep the temperature rise less than that there would need to be an even greater, faster deployment of nuclear energy.

Nuclear For Climate, a grass roots initiative

During the lead up to COP21 , nuclear scientists and professionals from all over the world joined forces to in order to get their voice better heard. Gathered through 150 associations, they launched the “Nuclear For Climate initiative”. Many individuals took part in an online campaign where they had their pictures taken and shared via social media along with statements about the need to recognize nuclear energy as a low carbon technology. At the event itself, fifty Nuclear For Climate volunteers from various countries staffed the booth in the Solutions Gallery to answer questions from delegates on nuclear energy.

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Despite coming from throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas all individuals agreed to a common message: Nuclear Energy is Part of the Solution for Fighting Climate Change and set out the reasons for this in a position statement.

We therefore call on negotiators involved in the Paris climate talks to ensure that the right of countries to choose nuclear energy in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting their energy and development objectives is not prejudiced against in any way by the new UNFCCC protocols, specifically with regards to access to climate funding mechanisms such as Green Climate Funds – Nuclear For Climate Position statement

It must be said that never before has an external issue brought together so many associations and individuals from within the global nuclear community to express a common view. Nuclear ForClimate has achieved something remarkable which we hope will be repeated in the years ahead.

It is impossible to know for sure whether our message was heard, however the resulting agreement came out as technology neutral, with barely a mention of generating technologies. It is left to the countries to decide whether to include nuclear as part of their plans. Although technology-neutral, the agreement recognizes the importance of technology, and charters specific UN bodies to organize the assessment of technologies to be developed and transferred, and making sure they are “environmentally and socially sound”.

Much work then remains for the nuclear community and its supporters to show national governments and these UN bodies just how environmentally and socially sound nuclear technology is can be. For, as part of a diverse future low carbon energy mix, nuclear energy offers the best chance for us to successfully balance the needs of nature with those of human development.

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