Nuclear mattersNuclear power may be considered for carbon credits

Published 5 June 2009

Te 2001 Kyoto protocol excluded nuclear power from clean energy technology schemes; now, more and more countries appear to support the idea that developing countries should be given carbon credits if they build nuclear power stations; carbon credits could cut the capital cost of building new nuclear stations by up to 40 percent

Here is an idea which is surely going to be controversial: Countries are contemplating giving nuclear power stations carbon credits in the run-up to the crucial world summit on climate change in Copenhagen in December. If the idea is adopted, it would greatly boost prospects of a global nuclear power expansion.

Rob Edwards writes that draft text currently under negotiation at climate change talks by 182 countries in Bonn, Germany, includes an option to make nuclear facilities eligible for funding from 2012 under two schemes meant to help poorer countries develop low-carbon technologies: the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation.

The 2001 Kyoto protocol excluded nuclear power from these schemes, after opposition from European and developing countries. Now the nuclear industry is hoping to overturn that, and open the door for funding to flow to nuclear stations across the developing world.

The whole world will benefit if we can encourage developing countries to meet their rapidly increasing energy needs through low-carbon technologies like nuclear energy, drawing on international support,” says Jonathan Cobb, from the World Nuclear Association (WNA).

Edwards write that new figures from the association reveal that the amount of nuclear electricity generated globally in 2008 was the lowest for five years because of a number of decommissions. The WNA is, however, expecting a “new wave of nuclear build” after 2012.

There are critics. “It’s a survival strategy for the nuclear industry not the planet”, says Shaun Burnie, a nuclear energy consultant and former Greenpeace campaigner: He estimates that carbon credits could cut the capital cost of building new nuclear stations by up to 40 percent.

Climate change experts are cautious. Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at Manchester and East Anglia universities in the United Kingdom, has “serious reservations” about the CDM. He thinks, though, that nuclear power should be considered “provided safety and security issues are satisfactorily addressed.”

Robert Stavins, director of a project on international climate agreements at Harvard University, argues that a “carefully designed” provision to include nuclear power could be “helpful” in combating climate change. “But the promotion of nuclear power also brings with it a host of other environmental concerns,” he says.