Viewpoint: Scientists urge commitment to nuclear in clean energy growth

14 May 2019

More than 40 nuclear associations representing over 80,000 scientists have called on the Clean Energy Ministerial Conference - which will be held in Vancouver between 28 and 29 May - to commit to doubling public investment in nuclear-related R&D and innovation within the next five years. Their declaration was signed yesterday at the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants (ICAPP) , in Juan-les-Pins, France.

Philippe Knoche, president of SFEN, holding the declaration, with the signatories at ICAPP yesterday (Image: SFEN)

The text of the declaration is as follows.

We the undersigned, women and men scientists, engineers, and professionals representing national, regional and international scientific societies, as well as numerous technical organizations dedicated to the development and peaceful use of nuclear technologies, gathered here today in Juan-les-Pins, France agree that climate change is the most significant threat to our planet today, and with the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming by the end of this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with further efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We are concerned that the world is not progressing quickly enough in meeting this goal. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report sends a clear warning that the 1.5°C temperature increase may be exceeded already by 2030. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2018 global energy-related CO2 emissions rose 1.7% to a historic high of 33.1 Gt CO2.

We remind that nuclear energy is recognised as one of the lowest carbon sources of electricity. According to the IPCC, the median lifecycle emissions from nuclear energy are 12g/kWh, similar to wind energy. International institutions (United Nations, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, European Union) believe that all low-carbon technologies (renewable, nuclear and carbon capture & storage) will need to be implemented in order to achieve deep decarbonisation by the middle of this century. This is reflected in the latest 2018 IPCC report: the four 1.5°C illustrative pathways in the Summary for Policymakers include more nuclear energy, with a two-fold to six-fold increase in the use of nuclear power by 2050.

We note that there is global consensus that accelerating clean energy innovation is essential for limiting the rise in global temperatures, and some progress has been made in that direction: according to the IEA, the amount of public R&D investment in clean energy has doubled since 2000.  Also, the launch of the Mission Innovation initiative in 2015 includes the objective of another doubling of the investment for low-carbon energy research by the 2020 timeframe.

We highlight that the current level of public support for nuclear R&D (fission and fusion) has remained constant around USD4 billion per year (in 2014 value) since 2000, in a ‘business as usual’ situation. Additionally, in many countries, the private sector has been less eager to invest in nuclear R&D, for a variety of reasons including mixed or negative political signals, electricity market designs that have had a negative impact on the business case for nuclear energy, and perceptions on the level of financial risk required to be taken by private investors.

We point out that the nuclear industry is currently undertaking a new wave of creative projects around innovative reactor technologies (e.g. Small Modular Reactors, Gen IV reactors), cross-cutting technologies (e.g. digital transformation) and new applications (e.g. desalination, district heating, process heat for industry, hydrogen production), all requiring significant R&D investment and new innovative approaches. These projects are expected to open new market opportunities for the use of nuclear power together with other clean energy sources, often in sectors where they can make a decisive contribution to the decarbonisation effort (e.g. the heating sector). At the same time, a large proportion of the R&D infrastructure is becoming obsolete and needs to be renewed not only to support the development of this new wave of innovative reactors, but also to produce the radioisotopes needed for the development of nuclear medicine.

We ask that the Clean Energy Ministerial Conference takes nuclear innovation to broad multilateral discussions on clean energy at both the ministerial and working levels, so that nuclear energy can make its full expected contribution, as part of the clean energy portfolio, towards decarbonisation goals. Commit to doubling of public investment in nuclear-related R&D and innovation within the next five years, with a focus on innovative applications of advanced nuclear systems to enable the clean energy mix of the future. And have decided to jointly sign this declaration and would like to bring it to the attention of decision-makers internationally.

ICAPP congresses are co-sponsored by the American Nuclear Society (ANS), the Atomic Energy Society of Japan (AESJ), the Korea Nuclear Society (KNS), the French Nuclear Society (SFEN) and a number of major international nuclear societies, including European Nuclear Society (ENS). The meeting's annual host location cycles through the USA, Europe, and Asia. At the latest congress, held in France between 12 and 15 May, of the 42 nuclear societies that signed the declaration, 21 were present, and together they represent 80,000 scientists.

The Tenth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM10) will be hosted by Canada during the week of 27 May 2019. The CEM consists of 24 countries and the EU, which together account for 90% of all investment in clean energy in the world and 75% of global GHG emissions.

Agneta Rising, director general of World Nuclear Association, will be speaking at a side event on nuclear at CEM10.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News