At COP26 earlier this month, the glaring absence of nuclear energy as a central discussion topic highlights the uphill challenge this clean energy source has in being recognized as a key player in fighting global warming.
Right before COP26 started, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stated, “Nuclear energy provides more than a quarter of the world’s clean power. Over the last half-century, it has avoided the release of more than 70 gigatons of greenhouse gases. Without nuclear power, many of the world’s biggest economies would lack their main source of clean electricity.”
Media headlines lately have touched on California, Germany, and the U.K. struggling with skyrocketing natural gas prices and projected increases in power demand while simultaneously shuttering or considering closing their nuclear power plants.
Additionally, it’s not just first-world countries that are grappling with transitioning to a carbon-neutral energy base; as energy demand increases worldwide, all clean energy sources should be utilized to combat the climate crisis.
In another COP26-related article, Matt Bowen of Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy said, “(Climate change) will be much more daunting if we exclude new nuclear plants — or even more daunting if we decide to shut down nuclear plants altogether… Nuclear waste needs to be dealt with, (but) with fossil fuels, the waste is pumped into our atmosphere, which is threatening us from the risks of climate change and public health impacts from air pollution.”
So, if nuclear energy is seen as a way to fight climate change, why does it have such a bad rap? The reasons are many: fear of nuclear accidents, the potentially high costs and long construction timelines, and perhaps most relevantly, the fact that no country has yet to permanently dispose of its spent nuclear fuel.
Nuclear waste disposal isn’t as easy (or fun) to talk about as the deployment of renewable energy sources, but it is just as important. Because the ultimate disposal of nuclear waste proves to be a barrier to the deployment of new nuclear power plants, solving the nuclear waste disposal problem will help governments address public concerns about building new plants.
Although nuclear energy has its challenges and is often hampered by issues of public perception and deployment, it is still an incredibly necessary low-carbon energy source that can help reduce emissions that lead to global warming. While nuclear may not have been officially discussed enough by top decision-makers at COP26, we believe that solving the problem of nuclear waste will get the world one step closer to its climate goals.