Answer to climate change raises questions of its own

Nuclear energy must play a vital part in carbon cutting if the world is to meet its climate change targets, report says, but changes to governance are required.

The UAE’s first nuclear power reactor, at Barakah in Al Dhafra region, is set to come online next year. Courtesy Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation
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ABU DHABI // Nuclear power is essential for addressing climate change but significant advances in technological development and global governance are required for it to stay that way, a report by a US policy group says.

Nuclear Power for the Next Generation: Addressing Energy, Climate and Security Challenges was released last week by the Global Nexus Initiative in Washington, which gathered nuclear, climate change and energy information from experts and organisations.

The UAE’s first nuclear power reactor, at Barakah in Al Dhafra region, is set to come online next year.

“Nuclear energy has increasingly come forward as a climate change management tool as we realise how deep and fast carbon cuts need to happen,” said the report. “Meeting international climate goals of limiting temperature increases to 1.5°C to 2°C will require current emission levels to be reduced by 40 to 80 per cent by 2050 and near zero or negative by 2100.”

Alternatives to carbon-intensive energy sources, such as nuclear, will have to be introduced if targets are to be met.

“The renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy are important in this regard but they cannot in the foreseeable future produce the energy that is needed in many countries. Therefore, an increased use of nuclear energy is crucial,” said John Bernhard, one of the report’s authors and former Danish ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Others agreed. “The renewable sources are not yet ready to take over the world’s energy supply,” said Dr Peter Bode, former associate professor in nuclear science and technology at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

“Nuclear power is more-or-less a carbon dioxide-clean energy source.”

Some experts said a more balanced view on the prospects of nuclear power and its place in the future of energy production is required.

“Nuclear governance does need significant strengthening, particularly with regard to safety, non-proliferation and security,” said Nobuyasu Abe, commissioner of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.

“But nuclear power is necessary to address climate change if renewable energy cannot overcome intermittency of supply and improve its cost.”

Miles Pomper, senior research associate at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington, voiced less hope that nuclear energy could tackle climate change in the long run.

“It’s got too many problems to be commercially viable in most places,” he said.

“It’s expensive, requires a highly trained workforce and regulators, and only Finland and maybe Sweden have figured out what to do with the waste. The future is with alternative energy and better storage.”