Nuclear part of climate-energy solution, says IAEA

21 October 2015

Nuclear power can make a "significant contribution" to combatting climate change - "one of the most important environmental challenges facing the world today" - while providing energy for economic growth, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The IAEA yesterday announced the publication of its report entitled Climate Change and Nuclear Power 2015. The annual publication, it says, "provides a comprehensive review of the potential role of nuclear power in mitigating global climate change and its contribution to other economic, energy and environmental challengers." The report also looks at the economics of nuclear energy, safety, waste management and non-proliferation.

The IAEA said that the report has been "substantially revised" compared with last year's edition taking into account new scientific information, analyses, technical reports and other publications that have recently become available. Sections addressing issues about which the available information has not substantially changed over the past year have been omitted and will be updated if necessary in future editions, it said. Meanwhile, new sections explore emerging issues that will affect the relationship between climate change and nuclear power in the coming decades.

Global climate agreement

The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting - COP 21 - is to be held in Paris in December 2015, with the aim of delivering a new universal climate change agreement leading to a low-carbon, sustainable future that keeps a global temperature rise under 2°C. Over 150 countries have submitted their intended national climate action plans to the UN ahead of the conference.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) today released a World Energy Outlook special briefing outlining the energy sector implications of the national climate pledges.

According to the IEA, if all countries meet the goals outlined in their action plans, growth in energy-related emissions - which account for two-thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions - "will slow to a relative crawl by 2030". The full implementation of these pledges will require the energy sector to invest $13.5 trillion by 2030.

However, the IEA says, "Despite these efforts, the pledges still fall short of the major course correction necessary to achieve the globally agreed goal of limiting average global temperature rise to 2°C, relative to pre-industrial levels."

"The twin challenge over the next 10-20 years will be to keep promoting socioeconomic development by providing safe, reliable and affordable energy while drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions," according to the IAEA. Nuclear power, it says, is "among the energy sources and technologies available today that could help meet the climate-energy challenge."

Nuclear power can make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions "while delivering energy in the increasingly large quantities needed for growing populations and socioeconomic development," the report says. "Nuclear power plants produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants during their operation and only very low emissions over their entire life cycle. Nuclear power fosters energy supply security and industrial development by providing electricity reliably at stable and foreseeable prices."

The IAEA said the advantages of nuclear power in terms of climate change mitigation are an important reason why many countries intend to introduce nuclear power in the coming decades, or to expand existing programs.

There are also significant environmental advantages from replacing fossil fuel plants with nuclear power plants as "they emit practically no local or regional air pollutants", the report noted.

Projections point to continued growth in the use of nuclear energy in the longer term, the IAEA said. Nuclear capacity is estimated to grow to 385 GWe in the low and to 632 GWe in the high IAEA projection by 2030 and reach 371 GWe in the low and 964 GWe in the high projection by 2050.

According to a number of scenarios, nuclear electricity is projected to avoid some 3.3 to 9 giga-tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in 2050, the report says.

The head of the IAEA's planning and economic studies section David Shropshire said, "The carbon footprint for nuclear power is very low - comparable to hydro power and less than any kind of fossil energy, while also providing a constant baseload supply of electricity." He added, "If the world is to limit the global temperature increase at an acceptable level, all low-carbon energy sources will be needed."

IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said, "Nuclear power is one of the major low-carbon energy sources currently available, and many countries believe that it can help them to address the twin challenges of ensuring reliable energy supplied while curbing emissions. As governments around the world prepare to negotiate a climate agreement in Paris, it is important that the contributions that nuclear power make to combating climate change are recognized."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News