Nuclear's 'key role' in meeting climate change challenge

11 September 2014

Meeting the energy needs of a growing global population while tackling climate change is the "biggest diplomatic challenge of the era," according to leading climate change expert Professor Sir David King. Nuclear energy, he suggests, has a key role to play in most regions of the world to meet this challenge.

King - WNA Sympo 2014 - 460
Sir David King addresses the WNA Symposium (Image: WNA)

King, the UK foreign secretary's special representative for climate change at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told delegates during the opening session of the World Nuclear Association's 2014 Annual Symposium today that an increasing global population will lead to "enormous new energy demand." He said by 2030, there will be an estimated 4.5 billion middle-class people around the world, all driving demand for electricity.

However, King said, "The planet is rather exhausted by the way we used it in the 20th century ... We do not have cheap commodities as a simple mechanism to regrow our economies," he said, adding there has also been "an irreversible upward slide in oil prices." King said there will be new challenges in the 21st century - the most important being climate change. Forecasts suggest a 4.5°C increase in global temperatures by the end of this century.

Not enough is being done to address climate change while meeting growing energy demand, King said. "Not enough has been said about what is happening in the oceans," where increasing CO2 concentrations have raised the acidity of seawater.

The biggest threat from climate change to island nations, such as the UK, is rising sea levels and floods, he said. UK policy aims for an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions and defossilization of the electricity grid by 2050, as well as the electrification of the surface transport sector. The country's energy policy could result in some 45-50% of its electricity generation coming from nuclear energy by 2050, said King, by when electricity demand is projected to be some 120 GWe. King noted that 11 other countries have used the same model used by the UK in drawing up their policies.

King stated, "Actions are urgently needed to reduce energy use, and actions to make energy clean. One thing would be enough to make this happen: if clean energy became less costly to produce."

He said that leading scientists are proposing a global 'Apollo' program to meet the challenge of climate change while producing sufficient clean energy for an expanding world population. Governments will need to be persuaded to sign up to the program, although joining would be voluntary. Countries taking part in the program would have to commit to spending 0.2% of their GDP on it. A roadmap would need to be determined to meeting the challenge, but one thing that is clear is that new-build renewable energy will need to be cheaper, King said.

Nuclear energy, King said, "has a key role to play in most regions of the world." He added that some areas of the world with large population growth may find renewable energy sources more suitable than nuclear. For example, South Africa has a large desert area and therefore a large capacity for solar energy, he suggested. However, for other countries - such as the UK - which have high population densities and therefore not enough land for large-scale deployment of wind and solar energy, nuclear may be more suitable.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News