The Climate Crisis Could Give New Winds To Nuclear Energy

The Climate Crisis Could Give New Winds To Nuclear Energy

The Climate Crisis Could Give New Winds To Nuclear Energy

For more than two decades, nuclear power developers and suppliers have felt excluded from United Nations climate conferences.

However, they were welcomed with open arms at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the UN’s main nuclear regulatory agency told AFP.

The ghost of Chernobyl and Fukushima, as well as the lingering problem of nuclear waste, left out the energy generated by the splitting of atoms, even though that energy was virtually carbon-free.

But as the climate crisis worsens and the need to move away from fossil fuels becomes urgent, attitudes can change.

“Atomic energy is part of the solution to global warming, there is no way to avoid it,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview.

It already represents a quarter of ‘clean’, ie carbon-free, energy, and Grossi said this COP was the first he was ‘at the table’.

“The winds are changing.”

To have even a 50/50 chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the threshold for dangerous tipping points that could trigger uncontrollable warming, global greenhouse gas emissions must be nearly halved in a decade, scientists say.

But things are still moving in the wrong direction: A report released Thursday indicates emissions are approaching record levels in 2021.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) warns they could reach new heights by 2023.

This helps bring attention back to nuclear energy.

“Nuclear was not welcome at COP 2015 in Paris,” said Callum Thomas, director of a nuclear industry contractor, who wore a “Let’s Talk Nuclear” t-shirt at COP26.

“We thought it wasn’t necessary. Today, many countries are analyzing the feasibility, especially with the rise in gas prices.”

‘Don’t Stop’

Since taking command of the IAEA almost two years ago, Argentine diplomat Grossi has worked tirelessly for the industry.

During its first COP in Madrid, “it was despite the general assumption that nuclear power would not be welcome”.

In Glasgow, on the other hand, where nearly 200 countries are still trying to get the meat off the ground under the 2015 Paris Agreement, he said: “Nuclear power is not only welcome, it also sparks A big interest”.

Grossi argues that not only can the technology accelerate the transition from fossil fuels, it can also advance research into the technologies needed to adapt to climate change, from finding drought-tolerant crops to eradicating mosquitoes.

Be aware that there are serious risks involved.

The collapse of three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima power plant in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami deeply shook confidence in nuclear power.

Industry must also find a way to dispose of nuclear waste that will remain highly radioactive for millennia.

But Grossi said that doesn’t rule out problems, arguing that the technology has statistically fewer negative effects than many other forms of energy.

It could also be a complement to renewable energies.

“Nuclear power goes on all year round, it never stops,” he said.

However, given the long construction timelines, many argue that it is too late to build sufficient nuclear capacity to effectively tackle global warming.

But Grossi said he believed part of the answer was to keep existing reactors running.

Century-Old Reactors?

Many power plants designed to operate for 40 years are now licensed for 60 years under strict national safety standards monitored by the IAEA, he said.

“What could be more efficient than a power station that you are building and that will provide you with electricity for almost 100 years?” he said.

He admitted that plants that work this long could be a “little provocation.”

“But it might still be possible.”

The IEA takes into account all sources other than carbon in its projections to limit the global rise in temperature while meeting the growing global energy demand.

The United Nations climate science advisory body, the IPCC, has made room for nuclear in its models, although it says its use “may be constrained by societal preferences.”

In fact, attitudes towards nuclear energy differ considerably from country to country.

While New Zealand and Germany oppose it, India is negotiating with French energy giant EDF to build the world’s largest nuclear power plant.

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In the meantime, Canada and the United States are developing so-called “small modular reactors”, only Russia having commissioned a floating reactor equipped with this technology.

Price is also no longer the barrier it used to be, Grossi said.

“Countries see a very interesting alternative in smaller units, which do not number in the billions, but in the hundreds of millions,” he said. “It’s quite affordable for energy projects.”

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