“U.S. leads coalition to triple nuclear power by 2050 in effort to address climate change,” was the headline of a Dec. 4 CNBC article on activity at the UN conference called COP28 being held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on the climate crisis.
COP stands for Conference of the Parties, annual gatherings under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The 28 is for this being the twenty-eighth session. It began on Nov. 30 and is to end on Dec. 12.
When it started, there was a stir over the conference president being Sultan Al Jaber who just happens to head the UAE’s state-owned oil company, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, (ADNOC). Time magazine splashed a photo of Al Jaber on its cover with the caption: “Oil executive Sultan Al Jaber is at the center of a global climate fight. MAN IN THE MIDDLE.”
The UAE “has the world’s largest oil reserves and has historically worked to protest its fossil-fuel economy in climate negotiations,” noted Time.
And it soon became clear that the sultan was not just in “the middle” as reports emerged in media about how in an online event in November “he cast doubt on whether eliminating fossil fuels would help limit global warning,” as Rolling Stone reported.
Here was documentation of a chief executive of an oil company who was leading the climate change conference minimizing the role of fossil fuels in climate change when the burning of fossil fuels has long been determined by scientists to be its leading cause. “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C,” he was quoted as saying. He added that phasing out fossil fuels would “take the world back into caves.”
Al Jaber’s vested interest was focused upon.
But then, in the way of a vested interest, nuclear interests, corporate and governmental, moved in on COP28.
As the CNBC piece related, at COP28 “the “U.S. and more than 20 other countries pledged to triple nuclear power to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and limit climate change. The declaration is the most concrete step taken yet by major nations to place nuclear power at the center of the push to transition to clean energy. Interest in nuclear is booming worldwide amid growing recognition that a dependable source of clean electricity will be needed to support the rapidly growing role of wind and solar in power grids.”
Nations signing on to what was titled a “Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy” which was presented at COP28 on December 2 included, beyond the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Japan, Hungary, Sweden, Netherlands, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Finland, Ghana, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and, yes, United Arab Emirates.
It begins: “Recognizing the key role of nuclear energy in achieving global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions/carbon neutrality by or around and mid-century and in keeping a 1.5C limit on temperature rise within reaching and achieving Sustainable Development Goal”—and then begins a series of paragraphs starting with “Recognizing.”
This includes: “Recognizing that nuclear energy is already the second-largest source of clean dispatchable baseload power” and “Recognizing the IAEA’s activities in supporting its members states”—referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency set up by the UN with a mission to promote nuclear power—and “Recognizing the importance of financing for the additional nuclear power capacity needed to keep a 1.5C limit on temperature rise within reach” and “Recognizing the need for high-level political engagement to spur further action on nuclear power,” the “Participants in this pledge” agree to a series of commitments.
These include committing to “invite shareholders of the World Bank, international financial institutions, and regional development banks to encourage the inclusion of nuclear energy in their organizations’ energy lending policies” and to “recognize the importance, where technically feasible and economically efficient, of extending the lifetimes of nuclear power plants” and committing “to support responsible nations looking to explore new civil nuclear deployment” and to “welcome and encourage complementary commitments from the private sector, non-governmental organizations, development banks, and financial institutions” and “to review progress toward these commitments on an annual basis on the margin of the COP.”
Further, it calls “on other countries to join this declaration.”
Commenting on the declaration, Harvey Wasserman, author of the books Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation and Solartopia, called it “beyond insane.” Promoters of nuclear power are making, he told me, a “full court press” to push it, trying to use climate change as a new reason while attempting “to kill” renewable energy technologies led by solar and wind, skyrocketing in adoption and efficiency and plummeting in cost.
Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, called the declaration the “stupidest policy proposal I’ve ever seen.” Jacobson’s most recent books are No Miracles Needed: How Today’s Technology Can Save Our Climate and Clean Our Air and before that 100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything. He says: “The world needs to switch away from using fossil fuels to using clean, renewable sources of energy as soon as possible.” In his books he details the use of existing technologies to produce, store and transmit energy from wind, water and solar sources. As to nuclear power, it is “not needed” to deal with climate change.
Beyond its danger and multi-billion dollar cost, nuclear power is not an antidote for climate change—it’s not “carbon emissions-free,” its opponents say. Michel Lee, chair of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy, stresses how the nuclear fuel cycle—including uranium mining, enrichment and fabrication of nuclear fuel—is “carbon intensive.”
And, nuclear power plants themselves emit carbon-14, a radioactive form of carbon.
Moreover, spending money on new nuclear power diverts funding to provide for implementation of truly carbon emissions-free energy technologies, they say.
Last year, the former heads of nuclear regulation in the U.S., Germany and France, along with the former secretary of the U.K.’s radiation protection committee, issued a joint statement that said: “Nuclear is just not part of any feasible strategy that could counter climate change.”
The former leaders were Dr. Greg Jaczko, who had been chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Wolfgang Renneberg, ex-head of Reactor Safety, Radiation Project and Nuclear Waste for the German government; Dr. Bernard Laponche who had been director general of the French Agency for Energy Management; and Dr. Paul Dorfman, who had been secretary of the UK’s Government’s Committee Examining Radiation Risk from Internal Emitters.
They wrote: “The central message, repeated again and again, that a new generation of nuclear will be clean, safe, smart and cheap, is fiction. The reality is nuclear is neither clean, safe or smart but a very complex technology with the potential to cause significant harm.”
Their statement continued that “nuclear as strategy against climate change is: Too costly in absolute terms to make a relevant contribution to global power production; More expensive than renewable energy in terms of energy production…; Too costly and risky for financial market investment and therefore dependent on very large public subsidies and local guarantees; Unsustainable due to the unresolved problem of very long-lived radioactive waste; Financially unsustainable as no economic institution is prepared to insure against the full potential cost, environmental and human impacts of accidental radiation release—with a majority of those very significant costs borne by the public; Militarily hazardous since newly promoted reactor designs increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation;
Further, their statement said nuclear power is not suitable to counter climate change because it is: “Inherently risky due to unavoidable cascading accidents from human error, internal faults and external impacts, vulnerability to climate-driven sea-level rise, storm, storm surge, inundation and flooding hazard…; Subject to many unresolved technical and safety problems associated with newer unproven concepts including ‘Advanced’ and Small Modular Reactors; Too unwieldy and complex to create an efficient industrial regime for reactor construction and operation processes within the intended build-time and scope needed for climate change mitigation; Unlikely to make a relevant contribution to necessary climate change mitigation needed by the 2030s due to nuclear impracticably lengthy development and construction time-lines and the overwhelming construction costs of the very great volume of reactors that would be needed to make a difference.”
A presentation by Pope Francis was read at COP28. “Are we working for a culture of life or a culture of death?” asked the pope. “Let us choose life! Let us choose the future! May we be attentive to the cry of the earth….Climate change signals the need for political change. Let us emerge from the narrowness of self-interest….Now there is a need to set out anew. May this COP prove to be a turning point demonstrating a clear and tangible political will that can lead to a decisive acceleration of ecological transition…achieved in four sectors: energy efficiency; renewable sources; the elimination of fossil fuels; and education in lifestyles that are less dependent on the latter.”
With the vested interest and self-interest shown so far at it, COP28 has far to go.