IAEA releases report on Nuclear Energy for a Net Zero World

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released its report titled “Nuclear Energy for a Net Zero World” ahead of the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK, being held from October 31 to November 12.  

The report highlights the critical role of nuclear energy in achieving the goals of the COP15 Paris Agreement and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development by replacing fossil fuels such as coal and oil, increasing deployment of renewable energy, and becoming an economical source for large amounts of clean hydrogen. 

The annual COP climate summit brings together countries to negotiate and expedite action towards the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement adopted by 196 countries aiming to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degree Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. 

“Over the past five decades, nuclear power has cumulatively avoided the emission of about 70 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) and continues to avoid more than 1 Gt CO2 annually. As we head toward (COP26), it is time to make evidence-based decisions and ramp up the investment in nuclear. The cost of not doing so is far too high to bear”, the IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in his foreword to the report. 

The report shows how nuclear power is vital for achieving the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring uninterrupted energy supply, thus providing stability to electrical grids and facilitating the wider integration of variable energy sources such as wind and solar. 

The report said that nuclear power as a stable source of low carbon electricity is well suited to replace coal and other fossil fuels, as well as providing heat and hydrogen to decarbonise sectors such as industry and transportation.  

It also underlines how nuclear power represents one of the most effective investments for the recovery of the global economy badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing directly, thereby, to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on energy, economic expansion and climate action. 

According to the report, replacing 20 percent of coal generation with 250 gigawatt (GW) of nuclear generation would reduce emissions by 2 Gt of CO2, or around 15 percent of electricity sector emissions per year.  

The report also outlines how clean nuclear energy can be a significant driver of economic growth, generating jobs in many sectors. With a current share of just 10 percent in global electricity generation, nuclear power already provides over 800, 000 jobs. 

As per International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates, investments in nuclear generate a larger economic impact than those in other forms of energy, making it among the most effective actions for a sustainable economic recovery as well as the transition to a net zero energy system. 

According to the IAEA report, nuclear power’s partnership with renewables will be key to driving emissions to net zero because it is dispatchable, low emission, flexible and reliable. Nuclear power can underpin net zero energy mixes based on electricity, while also helping to lower the costs of the overall electricity generating system. 

Moreover, nuclear energy can provide low carbon heat, as well as be used to produce hydrogen, because sectors such as steel, cement, chemicals, shipping and air transport, which together account for around 60 percent of global emissions, will require the deployment of heat or energy carriers such as hydrogen. 

The report recommends a series of actions aimed at speeding up the deployment of nuclear power, including, I) introduction of carbon pricing and measures to value low-carbon energy, II) adopting objective and technology neutral frameworks for low carbon investments, III) ensuring markets, regulations and policies value and remunerate nuclear energy’s contribution to reliable and resilience low-carbon energy systems, IV) boost public investment and support for private investment in nuclear power, including reactor lifetime extensions, V) promoting diversified electricity systems to mitigate climate risks to energy infrastructure, as well as ensuring the continuity and quality of electricity services. 

Nine countries – Canada, China, Finland, France, Japan, Poland, Russia, the UK and the US – have provided statements in the report in support of its findings on the role of nuclear power in combating climate change. 

“The operation of NPPs (nuclear power plants) in our country (Poland) will help achieve the climate neutrality objective, positively affect the economy while creating new, highly specialized industry branches, and enhance the country’s energy security. It is estimated that new industry sectors linked to renewables and nuclear power will help create around 300,000 new jobs”, Michal Kurtyka, who was also President of COP24, when Poland hosted the conference in 2018, said in a statement in the report.  

“The task ahead of us – limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5°C and achieving net zero emissions by 2050 – is a formidable challenge and an immense economic opportunity. The global clean energy transition will require deploying, at massive scale, the full range of clean energy technologies, including nuclear energy, over the next decade and beyond”, John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate for the US, said in his statement for the IAEA report.  

“Woods are burning, floods and hurricanes are multiplying, and temperatures are rising. Now is the time for action, and this action must be based on science and on facts. According to the best science of our day, nuclear power is part of the solution. COP26 is a chance we cannot waste. It may be one of our last best opportunities to agree on concrete steps to achieve sustainable prosperity for all”, the IAEA Director General Grossi said ahead of the Glasgow meet.

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