NEA press room

Press kit: Nuclear energy and sustainable development

Providing energy to all in an efficient, effective and environmentally friendly manner is an essential component of sustainable development policies. In the framework of OECD work in this area, the NEA is assessing to what extent nuclear energy is compatible with the goals of sustainable development. The NEA is also identifying the challenges that must be overcome in order for nuclear energy to contribute more effectively to sustainable development.

The environmental dimension of sustainable development is highly relevant in the energy sector where reducing the risk of global climate change has become a major objective. The implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and the application of its "flexible mechanisms" are at the forefront of energy policy debates in most OECD countries. The potential role of nuclear energy is viewed very differently and assessed against various criteria by the range of stakeholders in governments and civil society according to their interests and priorities.

The Kyoto Protocol emission targets call for total annual emissions in OECD countries to be reduced by about 700 million tonnes 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 1 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, or about 10% 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.

Related NEA reports and publications

Nuclear Energy: Towards sustainable development (2007) 
OECD countries share the same goals of sustainable development, but differ in their views on the role of nuclear energy in achieving those goals. Indeed, few energy sources have been scrutinised in the public spotlight over the years quite as much. The question is simple: is nuclear really a sustainable energy? Article by NEA Director-General Luis E. Echávarri published in the OECD Observer.

Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy
In the context of sustainable development policies, decision making in the energy sector should be based on carefully designed trade-offs which take into account, insofar as feasible, all of the alternative options' advantages and drawbacks from the economic, environmental and social viewpoints. This report examines various aspects of nuclear and other energy chains for generating electricity, and provides illustrative examples of quantitative and qualitative indicators for those chains with regard to economic competitiveness, environmental burdens (such as air emissions and solid waste streams) and social aspects (including employment and health impacts).

NEA News, Vol. 19, No. 1 (2001)
This issue of NEA News was prepared in conjunction with the OECD Forum 2001 on "Sustainable development and the new economy". It includes a range of individual contributions on the subject of nuclear energy and sustainable development, covering its economic, social and environmental aspects. They outline the role that nuclear energy may be able to play in helping to promote sustainable development in OECD member countries and beyond. This role arises from two of nuclear energy's most important assets: namely, that it produces negligible amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and provides a stable supply of baseload electricity which is not vulnerable to volatility in fuel prices. (2001)

Nuclear Energy in a Sustainable Development Perspective Also available in Korean
This report for policy makers provides a review of the specific characteristics of nuclear energy in relation to sustainable development. Since national policy decisions in the energy field result from trade-offs between economic, social and environmental factors, nuclear energy should be put in perspective with alternatives. The report identifies the main benefits, impacts and risks of nuclear energy in order to help governments evaluate to what extent and under which conditions nuclear energy can contribute to sustainable development. The report, which does not in any way prejudge the energy policies of individual countries, can be seen as a useful instrument for the international community to gauge nuclear energy against long-term energy challenges. (2000)

Related links

OECD green growth and sustainable development
OECD ministers recognised that sustainable development is an overarching goal for the OECD and their governments, and that OECD countries bear a special responsibility in achieving sustainable development worldwide. When ministers of economics, finance, and environment met in 2001, they welcomed the results of a three-year project on sustainable development and asked the OECD to take on new work.

The 2001 ministerial mandate asked the OECD to identify sustainable development indicators for use in future OECD country surveys and peer-reviews, identify how obstacles to policy reform and implementation could be overcome, analyse further the social dimension of sustainable development and provide guidance on how to improve policy coherence and integration.

Work had started in all areas of the mandate, and continued through 2004. It was overseen by an ad hoc group on sustainable development, whose bureau was composed of the chairs of the OECD committees on economic policy, environmental policy and social affairs. A report highlighting the main work of the OECD was produced for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The OECD Global Forum on Development provides a policy dialogue between OECD and non-OECD countries on best practices for achieving sustainable development. The OECD work is complemented by a Round Table on Sustainable Development, housed at the OECD, which gathers ministers, heads of international organisations, NGOs and business representatives to address selected issues.

Kyoto Protocol
Complete text of the 1992 protocol.

World Summit on Sustainable Development
Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August - 4 September 2002.

Last updated: 19 November 2007