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How much does nuclear energy really contribute to climate protection?

How much does nuclear energy really contribute to climate protection?

11 March 2008

The debate regarding the expansion of nuclear energy capacity has gained new prominence in the face of climate change. In scientific and political scenarios, nuclear energy is often seen as an important element of a future energy system. Against this backdrop, the Climate Talk tried to evaluate the actual contribution of nuclear energy towards greenhouse gas reduction targets. Taking into account existing and emerging alternatives, the experts assessed the future role of nuclear energy in the international climate policy regime.

Three presentations introduced the subject: Mycle Schneider (Consultant on energy and nuclear policy, Paris) provided a detailed overview on the world-wide nuclear energy development trends. Christian Meyer zu Schwabedissen (AREVA NP) presented the Areva's vision for the future, emphasising the contribution of nuclear energy to climate policy goals compared to other power generation technologies. Finally, Dr. Eike Schwarz (formerly Economics Ministry North Rhine-Westphalia) assessed a potential expansion of nuclear capacities with regard to the risk of an atomic accident and remaining uranium reserves.

In a lively debate, participants agreed that nuclear technology would be able to contribute to climate protection judging from a purely technical point of view. Its contribution would, however, depend on governments' willingness to establish the necessary political and economic framework. Opinions diverged on the question if such a promotion policy would also be desirable taken into consideration economic, social and security aspects. Several participants highlighted the risk of major accidents, which is the reason for many people's fear of nuclear energy. Concern was also expressed about nuclear proliferation since the forecasts show that most additional capacity will have to be built in developing countries.

On the other hand, participants underscored the importance of economics when judging the value of nuclear energy compared to other low-carbon alternatives. The stringency of future CO2 reduction targets will be of great importance as a higher price for carbon credits would substantially increase the cost-effectiveness of all low-carbon technologies, including nuclear. Participants concluded that different countries are likely to choose different approaches in the future. As a result, it will be difficult for the EU to agree on a common position and even more so for the UN.

The animated discussion was continued at a nearby location, where these and other issues were followed up in an informal setting.

Freie Universität Berlin, Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU), Germany
Mycle Schneider
Christian Meyer zu Schwabedissen (AREVA NP)
Dr. Eike Schwarz
11 March 2008
Berlin, Germany
Number of Participants