Nuclear energy the answer to combat climate change
Summary: Nuclear energy was vital to meeting the global challenge of climate change but projections were for a dramatic shortfall in capacity by 2050, a major new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency said.....
Without nuclear, cumulative greenhouse gas emissions between 2018 and 2050 could be up to 12 gigatonnes higher, more than 20 times Australia’s entire emissions last year.
Replacing nuclear energy capacity entirely with other low carbon generation would cost an extra $US1 trillion ($1.38tn)and “increase electricity prices and lead to loss of employment”, the IAEA report said.
Called Climate Change and Nuclear Power 2018, the report said climate change was one of the most important issues facing the world today.
Nuclear energy could make an important contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while delivering energy in the increasingly large quantities needed for global economic development.
“Nuclear power plants produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants during their operation and only very low emissions over their full life cycle,” the report said.
In 2014, the combustion of coal accounted for 45 per cent of total energy-related CO2 emissions, with about one-third coming from oil and 20 per cent from natural gas.
Between 1990 and 2014, total greenhouse gas emissions increased by almost 30 per cent but emissions from electricity generation almost doubled.
In contrast, electricity generation from low-carbon sources, such as nuclear power, hydroelectricity and other renewables, grew by 80 per cent.
“Reducing emissions from electricity generation will necessitate a larger contribution from these low-carbon sources in the future,” the IAEA report said.
Nuclear energy had avoided about 68 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions between 1970 and 2015, equal to the entire actual emissions from the power sector between 2010 and 2015.
The IAEA said the contribution of nuclear energy to greenhouse gas mitigation over the next decades would depend on many factors including the performance of the nuclear industry, economic competitiveness and safety.
Nuclear energy also faced debate around radiation exposure, radioactive waste, and off-site effects of nuclear accidents.
The latest IAEA estimates project significantly lower nuclear capacity for 2050. “These declining nuclear capacity projections raise serious concerns about the prospects for climate change mitigation,” the report said.
It said nuclear plants were expensive to build compared with coal and gas but competitive except when low cost fossil fuels such as shale gas were available.
“If the health and environmental costs of fossil fuels are also considered, nuclear power is even more competitive,” the report said.
While the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 in Japan had caused 20,000 casualties, none was related to the release of radioactive material.