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Know How Nuclear Power Supplements Paris Agreement

New Delhi (ABC Live): Nuclear Power-Paris Agreement : All low-carbon energy technologies, including nuclear power, are needed to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the rise of global temperatures to below 2°C. This paper summarizes the potential role of nuclear power in climate change mitigation and sustainable development.


How can we meet the climate target set by the Paris Agreement? In November 2015, world leaders came together to agree on fi rm climate targets1 : holding the increase in global average temperature from pre-industrial levels to well below 2°C, the threshold at which most experts believe the worst impacts from climate change can still be avoided, and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5°C.

A first step towards achieving the Paris Agreement goal is for all countries to meet their initial INDC pledges.

The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted in support of the Paris Agreement are aimed at reducing or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions over a span of 10 to 15 years. As of the end of October 2016, 163 INDCs were submitted, representing 190 countries and covering almost 99% of global emissions.

However, initial INDCs fall well short of meeting the Paris Agreement targets. Meeting pledges and turning plans into action are only the fi rst steps towards achieving the decarbonization of economies. Continued motivation to increase the efforts to meet the 2°C target is the “ambition” coined in the Agreement. Hence, the Paris Agreement stipulates what is now referred to as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to be progressively revised every fi ve years starting from 2020.

What does it take to decarbonize the energy sector?

Energy-related emissions make up three-quarters of global greenhouse gases (GHG). Implementing the Agreement thus implies a radical transformation of energy production and usage. Three essential components of any climate strategy are:

  1. An across-the-board adoption of energy conservation measures to decrease consumption, particularly of fossil fuels, in every energy end-use and transformation sector;
  2. The substitution of fossil fuel-based electricity with low-carbon sources such as nuclear or renewable energy or with fossil fuel power plants equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology;
  3. The electrifi cation of energy use in buildings, industry and transport sectors, whenever possible.

What is the role of nuclear power in current national climate mitigation strategies?

In the INDC submissions, ten countries explicitly listed nuclear power in their national climate strategies, including fi ve countries currently with nuclear power programmes (Argentina, China, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan), two with reactors under construction (Belarus, United Arab Emirates), and three prospective users (Jordan, Niger, Turkey). Driven by its rapidly growing electricity needs, India has the most ambitious nuclear deployment plans, with an eight-fold increase in nuclear capacity relative to current levels, in order to meet their national climate objective. Also, the targets set by China, in its 13th Five Year Plan, pave the way for a fi ve-fold increase in nuclear capacity by 2030 relative to current levels. Additional countries are expected to further defi ne roles for nuclear power in their NDC submissions. In particular, the United States and the European Union are expected to replace some retiring reactors and could add new units to complement other low-carbon measures.


Is nuclear power a suitable option to address climate change mitigation? Nuclear power, along with hydropower and wind energy, produces one of the lowest GHG emissions per unit of electricity generated on a life cycle basis (i.e. construction, operation, decommissioning, waste management.

Nuclear power can be an effective technological option in mitigating climate change, as emphasized in long-term projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency. Decarbonization of the power sector also calls on signifi cant use of coal and natural gas with CCS. However, CCS produces higher GHGs emissions than nuclear power and many technical and economic uncertainties remain.

Nuclear power, together with hydropower and wind-based electricity, is among the lowest greenhouse gas emitters.

Whether nuclear power is used to mitigate climate change remains the sovereign right and decision of each country. All countries have the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, as well as the responsibility to do so safely and securely. How has nuclear power contributed to lowcarbon electricity historically? Since the 1970s, low-carbon electricity supply has undergone several waves of transformation. The large scale deployment of nuclear capacity in the 1970s and 1980s made nuclear power, along with hydropower, key contributors to low-carbon electricity worldwide (Fig. 3). Nuclear power saves almost 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions each year and has avoided more than 60 billion tonnes of emissions over the 1970- 2015 period. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011 led to a temporary decline in the number of construction starts on new reactors due in part to public concerns about nuclear safety, in addition to weak economic conditions. Having seen the fastest global deployment in recent years, wind and solar capacity currently accounts for about 4% of global electricity supply. Presently, total low-carbon supply accounts for only about 30% of electricity worldwide. The pace of investment in low-carbon generation needs to accelerate in order to achieve 100% decarbonized power supply by mid-century to be in line with the 2°C target.

Which instruments and market mechanisms could support nuclear competitiveness?

What is the role of carbon pricing? The Paris Agreement establishes an international policy framework that is expected to create more favourable and predictable conditions for lowcarbon investments. For an effective transition to a low-carbon economy, it is essential that consumer prices refl ect any environmental damage caused. Possible solutions include progressively removing government support to high-carbon consumption and production, and putting a price on carbon emissions. Carbon prices would improve the economics of nuclear power.

A careful implementation of carbon pricing mechanisms encourages polluters to reduce emissions in favour of low-carbon alternatives. Carbon pricing can compensate for cheap fossil fuel electricity generation that deter renewable and nuclear power operations. Almost half of INDCs submitted to date mention the reliance on carbon markets.10 Initiatives such as the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, which brings together governments, businesses and civil society groups, are gaining momentum. In the Paris Agreement, domestic policies and carbon pricing are recognized as important factors in advancing emission reductions. In addition, a new market mechanism currently under negotiation would create linkages between various climate mitigation measures.

What is the role for nuclear technology innovation in climate change mitigation?

Innovation is essential to foster the deployment of more affordable and more sustainable low-carbon technologies. For nuclear power, advancements can improve performance and safety and can help extend the operation life of reactors. Currently, nuclear power mainly supplies electricity, but innovation opens up additional areas to contribute to emission reduction, including non-electric applications such as desalination, process heat and energy storage. The Paris Agreement provides a platform for enhanced technological innovation and supports cooperation as well as knowledge transfer. There are many opportunities for innovation to advance nuclear energy in addressing climate change, including new reactor designs such as small modular reactors (IAEA, 2016e) and advanced fuel cycles. Some designs for innovative nuclear plants exist and many others are in development. However, more investment in research, development and demonstration is needed.

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About Deepshikha Singh

Deepshikha Singh is pursuing her Master's degree in Climate Science and Policy and reports on Environment & Climate Change for ABC Live

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