Pro-Nuclear Voices Raised at Paris Climate Talks

  • Nuclear for Climate says countries have right to choose nuclear as climate solution 
  • Four prominent climate scientists call nuclear “only viable path forward” to decarbonization (WNN related report)
  • OECD NEA says nuclear the only “firmly dispatchable” carbon-free baseload source

Dec. 3, 2015 (NEI) —As leaders from most of the world’s nations gathered at the COP21 climate talks in Paris this week, several organizations have spoken out on how nuclear energy must play a significant role in reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases from one of its larger sources globally—the electricity sector.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for 80 percent of global electricity to be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050—compared with only 30 percent today—to minimize the threat of global warming. The IPCC also has recognized that emissions from nuclear power plants are two orders of magnitude lower than those of fossil-fueled electricity generation.

The global nuclear energy industry agrees that a significant expansion of nuclear energy is needed for the world to meet these goals.

Nuclear for Climate, a grassroots organization bringing together more than 140 nuclear societies and associations including the American Nuclear Society, has published a position paper, “Nuclear Power is Part of the Solution for Fighting Climate Change.”

It urges negotiators at the Paris climate talks to develop “an achievable agreement” that ensures countries have the right to choose nuclear energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting their energy and development objectives.

The paper says the world needs to take urgent steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that nuclear energy is a proven low-carbon option, available today.

The European Union’s nuclear trade body, Foratom, welcomed the Nuclear for Climate paper. Foratom Director-General Jean-Pol Poncelet said nuclear energy will be represented at the COP21 talks through Nuclear for Climate.

Four of the world’s leading climate and energy experts, speaking at COP21 this week, urged countries’ negotiators to recognize the “unprecedented moral challenge” that the threat of climate change represents and that nuclear energy is “the only viable path forward” to the needed rapid decarbonization of the world’s energy systems.

  • James Hansen of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and formerly of NASA;
  • Ken Caldeira, senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology;
  • Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and
  • Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at Australia’s University of Adelaide and the National Center for Atmospheric Research,

The experts explained the urgency of deploying new nuclear plants worldwide in a Nov. 3 news conference at COP 21 (see archived video clip from the World Nuclear Association).

“Nuclear power, particularly next-generation nuclear power with a closed fuel cycle (where spent fuel is reprocessed), is uniquely scalable, and environmentally advantageous. Over the past 50 years, nuclear power stations—by offsetting fossil fuel combustion—have avoided the emission of an estimated 60 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy can power whole civilizations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion,” they said in a related op-ed in the U.K. Guardian.

“To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not on prejudice. … Throwing tools such as nuclear out of the box constrains humanity’s options and makes climate mitigation more likely to fail. We urge an all-of-the-above approach that includes increased investment in renewables combined with an accelerated deployment of new nuclear reactors.”

Other expert organizations have weighed in on the issue recently.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency said in its recent report, “Nuclear Energy: Combating Climate Change,” that there are only two options— nuclear power and renewable energy sources—to decarbonize the electricity sector. Of those two options, only nuclear provides “firmly dispatchable” baseload electricity.

The variability of wind and solar renewables requires flexible backup, frequently provided by carbon-intensive power plants.

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2015 said governments should recognize the certainty of supply, reliability and predictability that nuclear energy sources offer, and provide incentives and financing certainty for “all types of low-carbon solutions.” The report noted that 72 gigawatts of nuclear capacity were under construction worldwide in 2014. Almost 40 countries are considering developing their first nuclear power plants.

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