World Nuclear Association Blog

IPCC call for low carbon energy action

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When the third report from the IPCC, on mitigation of climate change, was published on Sunday the world's media focussed on its key messages - greenhouse emissions are rising, the threat of climate change is getting stronger, serious and radical international action is required, but we can still avoid the worse effects of climate change if we take action now and for the long term.  

But what was released on Sunday was just the "Summary for Policymakers", a 30-odd page negotiated skim of the actual report, which contains more a thousand pages of carefully referenced scientific assessment.

The conclusions of the full IPCC report are clear, the energy supply system is the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and more action in this sector is required now. The IPCC report says around 80% of our electricity must be supplied by low carbon sources such as nuclear, renewables and CCS by 2050 and to eliminate polluting coal, oil and gas generation by the end of the century.

IPCC Gases

The IPCC concludes that no single mitigation option in the energy supply sector will be sufficient to hold the increase in global average temperature change below 2°C above pre‐industrial levels. Embracing all options will give us the greatest chance of avoiding the harmful effects of climate change in the most cost-effective way.

Nuclear energy is recognised as having some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions for each unit of electricity generated, even when the full lifecycle emissions are included. Average emissions from nuclear are 12 grams of CO2 per kWh, compared to 11 gCO2/kWh for onshore wind, 12gCO2/kWh for offshore wind, 24 gCO2/kWh for hydro and 28-47 gCO2/kWh for solar. Biomass has no direct emissions, but infrastructure and supply chain emissions averaged a significant 230gCO2/kWh. Emissions for gas and coal averaged 490 and 920 gCO2/kWh respectively. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) helped reduce fossil fuel emissions, but even with CCS fossil fuel emissions were between 160-220 gCO2/kWh.

For uranium resources, the IPCC report notes that if all conventional uranium occurrences are considered there would be enough uranium to meet current levels of demand for 250 years. Closing the nuclear fuel cycle with reprocessing and recycling of fuel through fast reactors could extend that by more than 50 times (to more than 12,500 years) and reduce the amount of waste generated and disposal required. Thorium too could extend the nuclear resource further.

Tackling climate change and weaning ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels for electricity generation can seem daunting. But as has been demonstrated by France, a commitment to nuclear energy, in partnership with renewables, can virtually eliminate fossil fuels from electricity generation in little more than two decades - and supply some of the lowest cost electricity in Europe.

Nuclear energy supplies low carbon electricity reliably and affordably. The world needs nuclear energy to tackle climate change.