Nuclear community's message to UN Environment

03 November 2017

World Nuclear Association asks UN Environment to join other leading international bodies in recognising that nuclear energy is an important part of the solution to climate change. We hope to see nuclear energy represented alongside renewables in future UN Environment dialogues on clean energy, innovation and sustainable development, writes Agneta Rising.

On 30 October, The Australian newspaper ran an article 'UN Energy Forum Excludes Nuclear' that was followed the next day by one in Forbes, 'Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF17) Rejects World Nuclear Association Sponsorship'. There was also subsequent media coverage describing how UN Environment had ultimately rejected our offer to sponsor the Sustainable Innovation Forum, which takes place alongside the annual climate change COP talks in November. As the voice of the global nuclear industry, we wish to take this opportunity to make our position clear.

UN Environment states it is respected as the "leading global environmental authority", which implements "the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system" and which plays an influential role in advocating policy options to national governments. So, how can it in good conscience continue to downplay and largely ignore nuclear energy - the world's second largest and most readily scalable low-carbon electricity source - and nuclear technology in general, which contributes to at least nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

Media coverage presented this quote from a UN Environment spokesperson:

“We prioritise the renewables revolution, such as wind and solar energy, as well as encouraging the ongoing shift from fossil fuel. Our work on the nuclear sector is limited.”

Preventing greater than two degrees of temperature rise remains an urgent problem which the world is simply not currently on track to solving. At the same time as resolving to cut back emissions, many countries are industrialising and trying to improve the quality of life of their citizens. Worldwide, energy demand is steadily growing and the percentage of fossils fuels in final energy consumption has barely shifted for over 15 years.

The International Energy Agency's (IEA) 2-degree scenario is arguably the most widely recognised official pathway by which the planet might avoid excessive warming. It requires that, by 2050, nuclear energy provides one of the largest contributions to electricity of any energy source. In June, the IEA noted that high-level support was essential for nuclear to grow and reach these targets.

Just this week, at the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century (another high-level UN conference), the Agency's director general, Yukiya Amano, stated: "Clearly, the pace of construction of new nuclear power plants will need to be stepped up if the world's future energy needs, as well as climate change goals, are to be met. It is difficult to see other low-carbon energy sources growing sufficiently to take up the slack if nuclear power use fails to grow."

World Nuclear Association has long been concerned by the slow growth of nuclear energy globally as well as the discordance that exists between high-level policy bodies on nuclear energy, with some not recognising the role the technology needs to play if climate and development priorities are to be successfully balanced. For this reason, we launched the Harmony programme in 2015.

Harmony envisions a diverse mix of low-carbon generating technologies deployed in such a manner that the benefits of each are maximised while the negative impacts are minimised. We believe that this requires nuclear energy to provide at least 25% of electricity by 2050. The remainder could still be made up by renewables and other low-carbon technologies. The Harmony vision is fundamentally inclusive and practical in nature, requiring the global nuclear industry only to match the maximum build rate achieved during the 1980s.

Addition of new capacity (WNA)
Nuclear makes quick and lasting decarbonisation possible (Source: Cao et al, Science, August 2016)

We sought to support the Sustainable Innovation Forum because we believe that, going forward, a meaningful dialogue needs to develop between the global nuclear community and UN Environment. There are also some fantastic innovative new technologies being offered by our member companies which we wanted to showcase to important international delegates. We were willing to make an investment to bring some much-needed UN attention to these vital issues. Many people perhaps don't realise that it is very difficult to get onto the agenda of such a conference.

World Nuclear Association is already UN accredited and takes part in IAEA meetings regularly. We are also an official observer at UNFCCC COP meetings. With a new leader at UN Environment's helm and given the practical arrangement it signed with the IAEA in 2015, we were convinced that that the time was right for this important outreach. We were also buoyed by the success of one of our members, Terrestrial Energy, in becoming sponsors last year of another UN Environment conference - the Sustainable Investment Forum.

We remain ready and willing to represent nuclear energy at UN Environment events and to take part in its clean energy and technology discussions in the future.

Agneta Rising is the director general of World Nuclear Association.

Comments? Send them to: