1 August 2002 – In a report released today the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) argues that, in the long-term, nuclear energy has the potential for making a greater contribution to reducing CO2 emissions in the 21st century.

The report presents a brief analysis of the potential contribution of nuclear energy to lowering the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) – notably carbon dioxide (CO2) – released by the energy sector of those OECD countries that choose to continue with the nuclear option as a domestic energy supply source.

The publication of this report coincides with the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, from 26 August to 4 September 2002, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Kyoto Protocol emission targets call for total annual emissions in OECD countries to be reduced by about 700m t of carbon dioxide by 2008-2012, relative to 1990 levels. Without nuclear power, OECD power plant emissions of carbon dioxide would be about one-third higher than they are at present. This is an annual saving of some 1200m t of carbon dioxide, or about 10 per cent of total CO2 emissions from energy use in the OECD.

The benefit that nuclear energy offers in terms of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is not challenged by the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol does, however, incorporate conditions that specifically exclude nuclear energy as an option for implementation under two of the three “flexibility mechanisms” that can be used (in addition to domestic action) by developed countries or countries in economic transition to meet their commitments.

At present, the targets and flexibility mechanisms refer only to the Kyoto Protocol compliance period (2008-2012). While the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol would enhance the importance of emissions savings of current nuclear power plants, additional opportunities for nuclear energy to make an increased contribution to GHG emissions reduction would arise after the Kyoto Protocol compliance period. The report explains that the delay is, inter alia, because of the lead times involved in building new nuclear power plants.

“It is in this longer term that the debate about the possible role of nuclear energy in sustainable development will take on greater importance”, says the report. “Long-term scenarios for energy demand and supply show that expanded reliance on nuclear energy could have a significant effect on the reduction of CO2 emissions in the 21st century.”