US launches nuclear initiative to cut carbon with Canada, Japan, UK

nuclear power plant
A nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France (Photo: Stefan Kühn)

While the Trump administration generally avoids discussion of climate change, it is participating in a coalition to promote “clean, reliable” nuclear power

May 23, 2018 — The US, Canada and Japan are to create a coalition aimed at promoting nuclear power as a carbon-free energy source around the world.

The UK is also taking part, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) confirmed to Climate Home News on Wednesday.

The Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy (Nice) partnership will be launched on Thursday at a ministerial summit being held in Copenhagen and Malmö.

In a blog post on his department’s website, US deputy energy secretary Dan Brouillette called for countries to work together for a “Nice Future”.

“If the world is serious about reducing emissions and growing economies, then the ministerial must consider all options when it comes to carbon-free power, including clean, reliable nuclear energy,” he said.

Brouillette said the partnership would “make sure nuclear has a seat at the table during discussions about innovation and advanced clean energy systems of the future”.

Nice parallels international initiatives on solar and wind, smart grids, electric vehicles and energy access, all of which are grouped under the auspices of the Clean Energy Ministerial.

Director general of the World Nuclear Association (WNA) Agneta Rising will tell the launch on Thursday: “Countries will need to use nuclear energy alongside other forms of clean energy to deliver a sustainable energy mix that is affordable to all and that supports economic development.”

The initiative will promote nuclear technology to governments and policy makers as a solution to the problem of cutting emissions. In particular, it will focus on nuclear as a source for energy-intensive applications, such as desalination.

“Innovative nuclear systems will play a critical role in world-wide decarbonisation,” said Brouillette.

While generally avoiding public discussion of climate change, US president Donald Trump’s administration has pursued an international energy agenda that promotes nuclear and carbon capture as low-carbon industrial solutions. The US, alongside Saudi Arabia and Norway, will also launch a coalition aimed at boosting carbon capture at the meeting.

Around 50 nuclear reactors are under construction around the world, many of them in China, India, UAE and Russia. Brouillette said more than a dozen other governments had expressed interest in joining the Nice partnership. These include Poland, Romania, UAE, Russia and Argentina, according to the WNA.

The UK, which is building a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, has spearheaded a similar global political alliance aimed at ending coal power. Energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry attended the Denmark-Sweden event this week.

UK business and industry minister Richard Harrington said the “pivotal global initiative continues an essential dialogue on the role of nuclear in the clean energy systems of the future.

“Advancing innovative technology in nuclear will enable us to continue this momentum – and it is crucial that nations are coming together in this way to share expertise around this dynamic clean energy technology,” he said.

The partnership marks a return for Japan’s nuclear ambitions to the international stage, seven years after the country announced a full nuclear exit in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The phase-out led to near record coal consumption. But prime minister Shinzo Abe reversed the policy in 2014, calling nuclear the country’s most important energy resource.

Critics of nuclear power point at its high energy costs, potential for dangerous meltdowns and issues with radioactive waste as reasons to focus on other clean energy sources.

The industry is “notoriously overly-optimistic”, said Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK. “The data on nuclear shows that it is slow, risky, nowhere near as reliable as its advocates claim, very, very expensive and still rising in price. Left to themselves, the money markets will not invest in it.

“Nuclear’s last hope is that governments will rescue it from the market’s judgement due to its potential to provide low-carbon baseload. But twenty-first century electricity grids will differ from twentieth century grids in similar ways to information networks. They will be international, distributed, renewable and smart. They will have no need for baseload, and no place for nuclear.”


climate home by Karl Mathiesen | Climate Home