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The victory of nuclear energy at COP 28 and the change of paradigm

Amidst the urgent global imperative to address the escalating impacts of climate change, pursuit of sustainable, low-carbon energy sources has become paramount. In this pursuit, nuclear energy has emerged as a contentious yet compelling solution.

The recognition of nuclear energy as a solution for the climate change

In the framework of COP28, held in Dubai on Wednesday, December 13, a major step forward was taken in the final agreement: nuclear energy is officially recognized as one of the solutions to limit greenhouse gas emissions and thus slow down the rise in global temperatures.

“For the first time since the annual climate summits commenced in 1995, the 198 signatory countries to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) officially called for accelerating the deployment of low-emission technologies, including nuclear power.”[1] This recognition provides a clear pathway for the adoption, resurgence, and advancement of this energy source.

Why a paradigm shift?

As we know, recognition of nuclear power as a crucial component of the global energy mix has fluctuated. From its initial promise as a perfect solution for global energy needs to periods of skepticism and even opposition, the narrative around nuclear power has evolved along with changing political, economic and environmental dynamics.

However, with growing concerns about climate change and the imperative to decarbonize energy systems, there has been a resurgence of interest in nuclear power as a pragmatic solution as we will see below.

Firstly, technological advances and innovation have made it possible to change the negative conception of this type of energy. Today we have new nuclear reactors for energy production that “offer new options for use and include extensive built-in safety features”[2], providing this field with high safety standards and avoiding catastrophes such as Fukushima or Chernobyl. There are also other innovations such as “manufacturing processes, security of fuel supply, spent fuel solutions and other factors”[3] that make nuclear energy more efficient compared to other types of energy.

Secondly, this type of energy compared to fossil fuels “do not produce carbon dioxide, or any air pollution, during operation”[4], and this represents the main advantage in terms of the global objective against climate change, which has as main causes the emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide.

In conclusion, nuclear energy has indeed gone from being demonized to being sanctified thanks mainly to the above. However, not all debates concerning this type of energy have been resolved.

Debates that are still ongoing 

We must affirm that some issues are still under discussion, in particular nuclear as a non-renewable energy and nuclear waste.

“Although nuclear energy is a “clean” source of power, it is technically not renewable. Current nuclear technology relies on uranium ore for fuel, which exists in limited amounts in the earth’s crust”[5]. It is important to realize that the main element to produce nuclear energy is uranium, however this element is not unlimited and the only way to obtain it is through mining activity, and these points show us how we could be depleting natural resources (uranium) and generating environmental damage by mining activity.

Another contentious issue revolves around nuclear waste, characterized by high levels of radioactivity, causing significant risks to both human health and the environment. The decision to recognize nuclear energy as an official solution to climate change could represent the beginning of a massive production of nuclear waste for which a radical disposal solution is yet to be devised. Presently, the only recourse is the underground storage of such waste, which could entail the risk of long-term environmental and health catastrophes.

Indeed, nuclear energy brings with it clear advantages but also clear disadvantages. However, compared to fossil fuels, the advantages of nuclear energy are more important and move the balance in its favor, and even though there are still major challenges that require major actions in this type of energy, the balance continues to position nuclear energy as the best solution, motivated by the urgency and necessity of slowing down climate change.

A victory subject to development

Finally, we have seen how nuclear energy has positioned itself in the fight against climate change, nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the work that remains to be done in this area. In other words, this victory must be accompanied by great efforts on issues such as safety, waste treatment, advances in fuels, etc., to achieve a victory not solely for nuclear energy but for the collective welfare of humanity.

[1] https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/nuclear-energy-makes-history-as-final-cop28-agreement-calls-for-faster-deployment

[2] https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/2023-scientific-forum-nuclear-innovations-for-net-zero

[3] Ibidem

[4] https://www.energysage.com/about-clean-energy/nuclear-energy/pros-and-cons-nuclear-energy/

[5] https://www.energysage.com/about-clean-energy/nuclear-energy/pros-and-cons-nuclear-energy/

[6] image : https://www.forbes.com/sites/saleemali/2023/12/10/nuclear-powers-pivotal-moment-at-cop28/

 

A propos de Nicole PARRA