Carbon Crisis a Help for Nuclear, Not a Cure-All

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

The climate challenge will likely prove a modest, not a dramatic, help to nuclear energy, according to experts who spoke at this year’s Nuclear Energy Assembly in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Broad-brush policies on carbon are not happening, they emphasized at the conference that was attended by representatives from the Canadian Nuclear Association.

Global treaties failed, U.S. cap-and-trade legislation failed, and Congress will not put an explicit price on carbon.

The experts also correctly predicted that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration would use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations to set climate policy.

On June 2, 2014, the Obama administration unveiled a bold new Environmental Protection Agency rule that would reduce carbon emissions 30 per cent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

David Victor, a modeller with the University of California at San Diego, said the climate models call for modest, but not vast, new investment in nuclear.

As a way of decarbonizing the atmosphere, more nuclear power appears to be competitive with encouraging forest growth (as a carbon sink), and with generating power from biomass combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS).

There are many “paper technologies,” Victor said, for reducing atmospheric carbon, but they tend to be pushed by technology-boosters with little knowledge of real-world investing and regulatory conditions.

Victor’s advice to policymakers is to focus on adapting. Limiting global warming to two degrees is now impossible and that “huge adaptation” is not only needed, but inevitable.

His advice to the nuclear energy industry is:  Focus less on climate policies, more on “what your real competition is” for effective carbon mitigation.

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