Nuclear energy takes place at the COP26 table; be part of the solution to climate change
The worsening global warming crisis and the urgent need to reduce the use of fossil fuels changed the way COP26 viewed nuclear energy
Just before the start of the Glasgow Summit, The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) last month released a document claiming that nuclear power can help meet the targets of capping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed in the ‘Paris Agreement. Warning that “time is running out to rapidly transform the global energy system” as fossil fuels continue to dominate in power generation, the agency called for the deployment of more nuclear power plants.
The 24-page UNECE report highlighted how only hydropower has played a greater role in preventing carbon emissions over the past 50 years. However, making a strong argument in favor of nuclear power, the report states that nuclear is a low-carbon energy source that has avoided around 74 Gt of CO2 emissions in three decades, and nearly two years of total energy-related emissions in the world, he noted. .
“Nuclear power is an important source of low-carbon electricity and heat that can help achieve carbon neutrality and therefore help mitigate climate change,” UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova said at the time. publication of the document. The document also cites a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said demand for nuclear generation will increase sixfold by 2050, with the technology providing 25% of the electricity. global.
One of the conclusions of the report was that decarbonizing energy is an important endeavor that requires the use of all available low carbon technologies and that global climate goals will not be achieved without nuclear technologies.
Significantly, at the COP26 summit in Glasgow as well, there was a marked change in attitude towards nuclear energy. According to an AFP report, nuclear energy was brought to the table for the first time in this COP26. (At the 2015 climate summit in Paris, nuclear power was shunned)
With the worsening global warming crisis and the urgent need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, there has been a noticeable change and nuclear has been greeted with open arms, according to an AFP report. And quoted in the article the director general of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, who declared that “nuclear is not only welcome, but arouses a lot of interest” at the summit.
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In September, Grossi, addressing an IAEA conference in Vienna, stressed the importance of the IAEA’s work to ensure that nuclear energy “is and must be part of the solution to climate change”. And how it already accounted for a quarter of the clean, carbon-free energy in the world.
Today, 444 nuclear reactors are operating in 32 countries, providing around 10% of the world’s electricity and more than a quarter of all low-carbon electricity. 50 more reactors are under construction in 19 countries, which are expected to provide additional capacity, he said.
He added: “In every scientific projection, global decarbonization for 2050 is possible, and will be much easier, with nuclear energy.
Nuclear power comes with a baggage, however. The memory of Chernobyl and Fukushima continues to haunt the world. The meltdown of three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima power plant in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami made people nervous about nuclear power.
Opponents have called it too expensive, too risky and totally unnecessary. Building a nuclear power plant can be a daunting proposition for stakeholders, with conventional reactor designs turning into multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects. High investment costs, regulatory authorizations and approvals, coupled with long lead times and construction delays, have also deterred public interest. But some countries, notably China, are building new reactors, others are closing old ones: 5.5 gigawatts of capacity were installed worldwide in 2019 while 9.4 GW were permanently closed, said the IEA. .
There is also the thorny problem of the disposal of highly toxic waste and the dismantling of power plants. However, the UNECE warns that in order to prevent radiation accidents and manage radioactive waste, risks must be properly anticipated and managed. Some countries choose not to get into nuclear power because they consider the risks unacceptable.
Yet the adverse impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, droughts, fires, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, etc., have helped spark new interest in the potential of nuclear energy.
Additionally, Grossi pointed out that statistically the technology has fewer negative consequences than many other forms of energy and championed it as a complement to renewables. “Nuclear power continues indefinitely throughout the year,” he said, quoting AFP.
On the time it takes to build nuclear power plants, which could be too late to tackle global warming, Grossi said he believes part of the answer lies in keeping reactors in working order. existing. A number of countries – such as Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Russia, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States – United – have explicitly stated that nuclear power will play an important role in reducing their national emissions in the future. While Belgium, New Zealand and Germany have announced the nuclear phase-out, in 2025 and 2023 respectively.
India’s largest nuclear power plant project in Maharashtra with French energy giant EDF had been blocked for years by nuclear events and local opposition. But it seems to have had a second wind and India would seem closer to the realization of the project. When completed, the facility would provide 10 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, roughly enough for 70 million homes. Construction is expected to take 15 years, but the site is expected to be able to start generating electricity before completion, media said.
Meanwhile, the United States and Canada are opting to build “small modular reactors” because they offer a lower initial investment, can be scaled up or down to meet energy demands and help areas where large plants do not. are not needed. SMRs can also be used to help replace or replenish power plants that are retiring or to supplement existing power plants with zero emission fuel.