Tag Archives: United Nations

Environment Guest Blog Nuclear Energy

Talking Climate Change at WiN Global

By Heather Kleb
President
WiN Canada

In late August 2015, I had the pleasure of joining more than 400 Women in Nuclear (WiN)–Global members, from over 60 countries, at our annual conference in Vienna, Austria. Hosted by WiN–IAEA at the offices of the United Nations, the conference featured sessions on: medical use of radiation, safeguards and non-proliferation, nuclear security, and energy, environment and climate change.

Agneta Rising
Agneta Rising

One of the highlights of the conference was a climate-change panel with representatives from six countries. Among them was the Director General of the World Nuclear Association, Agneta Rising. Ms. Rising reminded participants of how quickly nuclear ramped up in the 70’s and that only one country (Germany) is now phasing out nuclear. This important context needs to be included in any discussion of the future of nuclear, and its role in mitigating climate change.

Climate change was also the focus of discussions during the WiN–Global board and executive meetings, where board members agreed to call for member support of a “Declaration of Nuclear for Climate.” The Declaration, which builds on the May 2015 agreement signed by 39 nuclear associations and 50,000 scientists from 36 countries, supports Nuclear for Climate’s global initiative to recognize the contribution of nuclear as a solution to climate change.

The WiN–Global declaration further reinforced that any discussion of low-carbon solutions that excludes nuclear is incomplete. Members of WiN-Canada were among the signatories to the Declaration, which requested that the “UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) Protocols recognize nuclear energy as a low-carbon energy option, and that it be included in its climate funding mechanisms, as is the case for all low-carbon energy sources.”

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Germany Replaces Nuclear with Coal, GHGs Skyrocket

German flag

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a plan to close all of the country’s 17 nuclear plants by 2022 and to generate 80 percent of Germany’s electricity from renewables by 2050.

Many environmentalists and anti-nuclear types viewed this Energiewende (“energy transition”) as good news.

But Germany’s green Energiewende is producing one big not-so-green result – a return to coal.

Replacing nuclear power quickly with renewable energy has proven difficult, mainly due to renewable energy’s primary weakness – intermittency.

The sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow. When wind and solar are not available to generate electricity, power buyers need another source. For Germany, that means more coal.

In 2013, Germany’s electrical production required a 44 percent rise in coal power. In fact, coal represented 45.5 percent of Germany’s power output, its highest level in 20 years.

Expect those numbers to rise, because Germany is building more coal plants, and expanding old mines. Progressive publications have taken notice. Mother Jones recently ran a profile of a German town first settled in Roman times that faced the threat of being bulldozed aside to make room for an open-pit coal mine.

While German greenhouse gas emissions fell between 1990 and 2010, they have risen since the chancellor’s 2011 announcement. This places Germany out of step with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the European Union. Both are demanding drastic GHG cuts in order to prevent severe climate change.

In 2013, Germany’s carbon emissions rose 1.8 percent, while European Union emissions fell 1.3 percent.

Not surprisingly, The Economist described the Energiewende as more like “a marketing slogan than a coherent policy.”

And the Energiewende hasn’t only increased the amount of atmospheric carbon Germany is producing. It’s increasing consumers’ power bills.

The annual increase in residential electricity rates has accelerated since 2011 when the Energiewende went full throttle. The annual increase is now seven percent, compared with 4.3 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to Eurostat.

The long-term results of the Energiewende experiment are not known. For now it stands as a cautionary tale for governments thinking about replacing low-carbon nuclear energy with carbon-creating fossil fuels.

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UN Experts: Triple Nuclear Energy

UN

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

In discussing climate change, politicians and media often speak of the need to increase “renewable energy” sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Not to get bogged down in semantics, but it would be more accurate to say that we need more “clean energy” sources. Clean and renewable don’t mean the same thing. For instance, nuclear isn’t renewable – the Earth has finite but extensive uranium resources. But nuclear is unquestionably a source of low-carbon electricity, and offers real potential in slowing down the concentration of climate-changing carbon in the atmosphere.

For example, did you know that nuclear power has the approval of the United Nations’ climate change scientific advisory body?

In April of 2014, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended tripling the amount of energy use from renewable energy and nuclear power in order to keep climate change within safe limits of two degrees Celsius.

The report recommends a massive transformation of energy policies, including calling for 80 per cent of electricity generation to come from low carbon sources, such as nuclear and renewable, by 2050.

“At the global level scenarios reaching 450 ppm (target for CO2 in the atmosphere) are also characterized by more rapid improvements in energy efficiency, a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero- and low-carbon supply from renewables, nuclear energy AND fossil energy with carbon capture and storage (CCS) OR bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050,” the IPCC report states, as it clearly includes nuclear as part of the clean energy mix.

“Nuclear energy is a mature low-GHG emission source of baseload power, but its share of global electricity generation has been declining (since 1993). Nuclear energy could make an increasing contribution to low-carbon energy supply, but a variety of barriers and and risks exist,” the IPCC added.

The IPCC report is meant to offer guidance to policymakers.

Not surprisingly, nuclear is a part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s climate-change mitigation plan.

“The president continues to see nuclear energy as an important part of a diverse energy portfolio, and it’s part of his goal of doubling the national share of electricity from low-carbon energy sources by 2035,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a 2013 speech to the American Nuclear Society.

For what it’s worth, Ontario is already well down this road. Its Long-Term Energy Plan calls for more renewable power sources – while continuing the province’s strong reliance on nuclear energy.

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U.N. does not Expect Cancer Increase due to Fukushima Radiation

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Thyroid scan

With little media coverage and even less fanfare, the United Nations released a report in April that dispelled one of the most popular myths regarding the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said in a report it did not expect “significant changes” in future cancer rates that could be attributed to radiation exposure from the reactor meltdowns.

“The doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low. No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants,” the report concluded.

While the report clears radiation from negative health impacts, it noted that those in the areas affected by the meltdown were not immune to other health impacts.

“The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation,” it said.

“Effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms have already been reported.”

So fear about the exposure to radiation was more of a health problem than radiation exposure itself.

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Nuclear Helping in the Fight Against Ebola

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

A nuclear-derived technology which allows for early detection of the Ebola virus has been developed by the IAEA and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

The technology, known as Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), can detect Ebola within a few hours, compared to other technologies which take several days.

RT-PCR will be made available to Sierra Leone, following a UN Security Council appeal, and support is expected to extend to Liberia and Guinea as well.

Early diagnosis of Ebola can significantly increase victims’ chances of survival, while limiting the spread of the disease by isolating victims and treating them earlier.

The full story is available on the IAEA website.

Environment International Nuclear Policy

All may not be Lost on Global Heating

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

The UN’s 69th General Assembly opened today in New York. On the agenda is “stemming the existential threat of climate change,” along with a litany of other crises from Ebola to ISIS.

I commented six months ago that only a “Poland moment” – the arrival of real, widespread fear for our way of life – might get climate change recognized as an “existential threat.” Let alone get it “stemmed.” I doubt that we are there yet.

But as catastrophic as the outlook seems on carbon emissions, I am not completely pessimistic. Governments do face up to, and act to mitigate, grave threats, even at times when doing so is costly and defies electoral arithmetic. The record of improving air and water quality in developed areas of the globe since the 1960s attests to this. So do many other international efforts to improve human health and security.

While it takes time, our governments have shown they can act to address environmental challenges. Source: http://www.ec.gc.ca/air/default.asp?lang=En&n=8ABC14B4-1&offset=2&toc=show
While it takes time, our governments have shown they can act to address environmental challenges. Source: Environment Canada.

How hopeful can we dare to be that a child born today will not witness hundreds of millions of people being displaced by rising seas and desertification due to climate change? Or at least, that he or she will live to see a substantial turnaround of this process?

Here are what I see as the negatives that support a pessimistic view:

  • Lack of action by major national governments so far – except for grasping at fake “solutions” that are politically expedient (such as farm subsidies dressed up as “biofuels”), are subsidy-based and therefore inefficient and unsustainable (much wind and solar). All of which create new vested interests faster than they decarbonize our lifestyles. Slightly less bad is watching government jump into solutions that may work out, but are too far down the road to be useful in the near-term climate battle (such as technology development funds).
  • A global policymaking environment of crises upon crises – to take just a few examples: for Europeans, the Eurozone economic crisis followed by Ukraine; for Arabs, the Arab Spring followed by Egypt and Syria; for Americans, financial crisis followed by politico-fiscal paralysis, military withdrawals, and now a new war.
  • The long financial crisis and sluggish world economy – putting a continuing drag on governments’ fiscal capacity, and also slowing the rate at which infrastructure can be rebuilt on lower-carbon technologies.

On the other hand, here are some major positives, raising hope that something can be done:

  • Real concern at the top – the UN Secretary-General, the US President, and many other top political, business and intellectual leaders appear to recognize the threat posed by climate change.
  • Steps forward by smaller players – large companies, industry associations and sub-national governments have been willing to be early movers, and some of those moves seem to have worked well.
  • Leadership in the high-growth regions – while dense emerging markets like China and India may remain far behind the West in many aspects of environmental quality, their high rates of infrastructure investment give them once-in-a-century opportunities to build lower-carbon systems in electric power, transportation and urban design. In fits and starts, they are seizing it.

The ecosphere will benefit if high-growth countries make good choices (as China does when it invests in fifty or seventy nuclear power plants instead of coal-fired units), and stable economies such as ours continue to rely on nuclear.

Weighing the scales, my own view is that the odds that we can still act to mitigate climate change are better than bleak.