Shift away from nuclear saps Europe’s lead on climate change


Today, almost one in two kilowatts of low-carbon electricity produced in Europe comes from nuclear power, an energy source with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions comparable to those of renewable energies.

The European Union has its eyes set on slashing GHG emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Achieving this ambitious goal requires the use of all low-carbon technologies. Yet, nuclear power is the elephant in the room when it comes to European climate change policies. The European Commission seldom mentions the energy source behind almost 50 percent of the continent’s low-carbon electricity, only setting binding targets to boost the share of renewables in its energy mix.

Nuclear elephant in the room

The Climate and Energy Framework endorsed by EU leaders in October 2014 does not mention nuclear power once. Not a single reference either in the Commission’s Clean Energy for All Europeans package of energy laws and regulations presented in November 2016 to help the EU implement the Paris climate accord.

This is a missed opportunity. The climate change clock is ticking and most of all credible scientists agree that nuclear energy has a role to play in decarbonizing our planet. By 2050, 80 percent of electricity will need to be low-carbon, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Renewables cannot do the job alone.

It is time for the European Commission to acknowledge this and champion nuclear research like the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries did in Mission Innovation. The intergovernmental initiative committed to doubling R&D to $30 billion annually between 2016 and 2021 to spur breakthroughs in all low-carbon energy technologies.

Europe must champion nuclear research

The EU has gradually withdrawn from research to fund new concepts of reactors. It allocated only 316 million euros to nuclear fission over the 2014-2018 period – focused more on safety than future technology – compared to the 5.9 billion euros assigned under Horizon 2020 to a “Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy” program that excludes nuclear energy.

Now is not the time to shun innovation in nuclear energy, a young technology with a great potential for scientific and technological advances.

Now is not the time to shut down nuclear reactors, and not replace them with new units.

Now is the time to use every single low-carbon technology at our disposal if we are serious about meeting our climate objectives. Taking nuclear out of the energy mix will knock us back by 15 to 20 years, the International Energy Agency recently said.

We don’t have that much time to lose.