Nuclear energy must be part of the COP21 climate change solution

In December, representatives of world governments will take on one of the most daunting technological challenges of our time: ratifying an agreement to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2)emissions by 80 percent by 2050. They will meet in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21). 

Unfortunately, there is a significant threat to any realistic plan being formulated in Paris – it’s the Bonn Agreement. This agreement, an outdated holdover from COP6 in 2001, would place significant limitations on nations that want to choose nuclear energy to meet their carbon reduction goals. Given the scale of today’s global challenge, every country needs access to the widest possible portfolio of low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear.  

More than one billion people are living today without the basic energy resources we in the United States take for granted that are vital to health and prosperity. That number is estimated to grow to three billion by 2050 if action isn’t taken now. We need the clean energy of all current nuclear power plants to minimize the use of fossil fuels as renewables seek to ramp up to the baseload scale that nuclear now provides. This may take many years to achieve. Without nuclear, more damage will be done to the environment and the world will be scrambling just to get back to current CO2levels, let alone reduce them even further. 

Study after study has shown that it is unrealistic to expect the world to achieve an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 without a significant expansion of nuclear energy generation. Yet under the agreement language currently being considered, developing nations wishing to make nuclear part of their energy/climate strategy would face major difficulties, as nuclear projects could be prohibited from receiving financial assistance from the climate pact’s sizable development mechanisms. The proposal would also directly contradict the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan. It would prevent developed nations from counting the emissions reductions of nuclear plants constructed after 1997 toward their carbon target, while the U.S. plan explicitly acknowledges new nuclear is an acceptable compliance strategy.  

Last week, I sent a letter to President Obama urging him to instruct the U.S. COP21 delegation to support removal of the Bonn language during the deliberations and help lead a “Coalition of the Realistic” to ensure that if any agreement is reached, nations are free to pursue their clean energy commitments without arbitrary limitations on the technological pathways they choose.   

The men and women of the American nuclear technology community are committed to the environmental stewardship of our planet. Any restrictions on nuclear energy in the COP21 agreement will have a chilling effect on the development of current and future nuclear technologies that have the ability to lift billions of people out of poverty. Nuclear technology serves as the workhorse of the low-carbon energy needed to protect the world’s atmosphere.  

To fight climate change and ensure that nuclear technology will be available for future generations, the American Nuclear Society (ANS) has partnered with more than 100 organizations internationally to form Nuclear for Climate (#Nuclear4Climate), an international collaboration highlighting the need for nuclear energy to fight climate change. ANS will be attending COP21 in December to work toward these goals.  

Sending the strong message to those signing the COP21 agreement that nuclear must be treated equally with comparable low-carbon sources such as solar, wind and hydro is imperative. We are at a watershed moment in protecting the earth’s climate. The world needs all low-carbon energy sources to prosper and to give developing nations the chance to provide electricity to their citizens. Let’s make sure that nuclear technology is available as part of the climate solution.

Grecheck is president of the American Nuclear Society.