By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association
Despite twenty-one COP meetings, one of which wrapped up last month in Paris, the world’s response to climate change is still patchy and unclear.
In particular, there’s a disconnect between Canada and Europe, on the one hand, and many leading countries on the other.
Experts and officials know that to hit a 1.5 degree or 2 degree climate scenario, renewable energy won’t be enough. Nuclear has to be part of the answer. The world’s use of nuclear power must grow by about 150% over the next 35 years, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook.
But few Canadian politicians recognize this, at least not openly. They talk about “clean energy” but not about whether the concept includes nuclear. Perhaps they take their cue from the leaders of climate-focused non-governmental organizations that also steer clear of nuclear. Perhaps it’s just easier to raise money and win votes without using the N-word. Perhaps they just don’t know any better.
Political leaders in other leading countries don’t have this inhibition. The United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, India and other key countries readily acknowledge that nuclear must play a central part in keeping the planet cool.
“As Prime Minister, I pledged that the government I lead would be the greenest government ever. And I believe we’ve kept that promise. We’ve more than doubled our capacity in renewable electricity in the last four years alone. We now have enough solar to power almost a million UK homes. We have the world’s leading financial centre in carbon trading. And we have established the world’s first green investment bank. We’ve invested £1 billion in Carbon Capture and Storage. And we’ve said no to any new coal without Carbon Capture and Storage. We are investing in all forms of lower carbon energy including shale gas and nuclear, with the first new nuclear plant coming on stream for a generation. Now, as a result of all that we are doing, we are on track to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.” — UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Speech to the UN Climate Summit, September 23, 2014
Politicians who avoid this nuclear fact have a problem. They promote an incomplete public understanding of the decarbonization path ahead of us. In effect, they are leading their people to over-invest in certain other solutions. We’re talking about wind and solar in particular, but also biofuels, geothermal, and many currently unproven technologies that might not work, not be ready soon enough, or not be able to scale up enough to help.
It’s not that these don’t belong on the world’s list of climate answers. It’s that nuclear is on that list too, and it’s near the top. That’s because it’s already proven, it’s already available, and it’s on a large enough scale to help.
“As detailed in the Climate Action Plan, President Obama is committed to using every appropriate tool to combat climate change. Nuclear power, which in 2014 generated about 60 percent of carbon-free electricity in the United States, continues to play a major role in efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector.” — The White House, November 6, 2015
By pretending nuclear’s not on the list, Canadian leaders are hurting, not helping, the climate cause. They’re committing to plans for greenhouse-gas reduction that are only partially effective. They’re sidetracking this country from the practical road forward to a world free of fossil fuels and their emissions. We need to act if we want to prevent a very ugly future for the only planet we have to live on. We need to overcome political inhibitions. It’s time to speak the truth about nuclear.
“The whole world is worried about global warming and climate change. People in air-conditioned rooms discuss this issue. But if India succeeds in generating clean energy, one-sixth of the humanity will take responsibility for addressing the climate change. For that nuclear energy is important. But the reactors will need uranium which will be given by Canada.” — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, April 16, 2015