Nuclear energy produced through new innovative technologies can play a key role in helping to alleviate the impacts of climate change. This was one of the key messages delivered by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) at the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27), in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Over two weeks from 5-20 November, world leaders, policymakers, scientists and energy experts gathered to identify the challenges that are preventing countries from making progress on reducing carbon emissions in the short and medium term, as well as from reaching their net zero targets by 2050.
As UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell remarked during his COP27 closing remarks: “Global emissions need to start a downward trajectory by 2025. That's only two years away. The IPCC also told us to cut emissions by nearly half by 2030. That's only seven years away. There is no room for backsliding.”
Diane Cameron, NEA Head of Nuclear Technology Development and Economics, led a delegation to COP27 to discuss nuclear energy's role in decarbonising the energy economy.
New nuclear technologies
The COP27 Nuclear Energy Agency delegation were at the forefront of several discussions on the pathways that nuclear energy can offer to reduce carbon emissions. These discussions were centered around such topics as nuclear-generated hydrogen, advanced nuclear technologies - including small modular reactors (SMRs) - clean energy policy measures and the partnering of nuclear with renewables to achieve net zero.
The NEA hosted two events at the #Atoms4Climate Pavilion, the first ever COP pavilion dedicated to the applications of nuclear science and technology, which explored the new innovative technologies that can help the nuclear sector to deliver low-carbon energy.
During the NEA panel session The Role of Nuclear Energy in the Hydrogen Economy [watch the session], nuclear energy experts and industry leaders discussed the findings from the NICE Future Nuclear-Hydrogen Digest which demonstrates the potential for nuclear energy to unlock the hydrogen economy.
“Clean hydrogen is low-carbon hydrogen and that includes nuclear-hydrogen,” remarked Katy Huff, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), during the session.
Katy Huff, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) joined the NEA's panel session on nuclear-generated hydrogen at COP27.
Joining Katy Huff on the panel were Diane Cameron, Head of Division, Nuclear Technology Development and Economics, NEA; Henri Paillere, Head of Planning and Economic Studies, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Hannah D'Arcy Fenwick, Senior Commercial Officer, National Nuclear Laboratory; John Arthur Gorman, President & CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association; Kirsty Gogan Alexander, Founder and Managing Partner, TerraPraxis; and Michel Berthélemy, Nuclear Energy Analyst, NEA.
Supporting decarbonisation with SMRs
The NEA-hosted panel The Role of Advanced Nuclear Technologies for Hard-to-Abate Sectors [watch this session] looked at the current status of advanced nuclear technology deployment and explored what role will they play in decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors.
This panel convened a broad range of industry and sustainable energy experts, including Andre Argenton, Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President , Dow Chemicals; Jon Carmack, Senior Technical Advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of Energy; Katie Jereza, Vice President of Corporate Affairs, EPRI; Kirsty Gogan Alexander, Founder and Managing Partner, TerraPraxis; Lori-Anne Ramsay, Chief Business Development Officer at Prodigy Clean Energy; Diane Cameron, Head of Division, Nuclear Technology Development and Economics, NEA; and Michel Berthélemy, Nuclear Energy Analyst, NEA.
The discussion highlighted the huge potential of SMRs, including the possibility for this advanced nuclear technology to replace coal power plants, off-grid mining and industrial heat applications of nuclear energy.
The #Atoms4Climate Pavilion was the first ever COP pavilion dedicated to the applications of nuclear science and technology.
NEA nuclear energy experts also took part in events organised by American Nuclear Society, Canadian Nuclear Association, Clean Air Task Force, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), European Nuclear Society, IAEA, Japan Atomic Industry Forum, Nuclear Energy Institute, Société française d'énergie nucléaire, Terrapraxis and VINCI.
Head of the NEA Nuclear Technology Development and Economics Division Diane Cameron had the opportunity to delve further into the topic of SMRs and their role in helping to decarbonise the energy sector during the side event Small Modular Reactors: Powering our Future [watch the replay] organised by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) event at COP27.
NEA Nuclear Energy Analyst Michel Berthelemy and Head of Nuclear Technology Development and Economics, Diane Cameron, with fellow panelists at COP27 session 'Scaling-up low carbon energies - Focus on nuclear and hydrogen.'
During this session, Ms Cameron highlighted the current role of nuclear in the global energy equation.
“Nuclear energy provides 10% of the nuclear electricity around the world. It already plays a significant role in displacing carbon emissions. Over 60% of the electricity around the world is currently provided through unabated fossil fuels,” stated Ms Cameron.
“It is impossible to think of pathways to net zero that do not involve significant new build out of new nuclear. The numbers speak for themselves. At the NEA we’ve done a lot of thinking about what do those pathways to net zero look like, and what is the role of nuclear in those pathways?”
Ms Cameron highlighted the gap between current nuclear energy production and what will be required in order for governments and policymakers to follow practical pathways to net zero.
“Ninety organisations have published pathways for the 1.5 degrees scenario and when we look at those 90 published pathways we note that the average role, nuclear energy triples,” Ms Cameron added.
For more on the NEA's action on climate change, visit here.