SOCHI, Russia – All low-carbon energy is needed in order to tackle climate change and meet the 2050 emission targets, World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising told New Europe.
“All the low-carbon options need to work together, otherwise we will not be able to minimize the effects of climate change. I do believe we need to have renewables but I’m also 100-percent convinced – as many others are – that without nuclear we cannot do it,” Rising said in an interview on the sidelines of the Atomexpo XI conference and exhibition in the Black Sea city of Sochi.
She pointed out that all 89 scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the end of 2018 showed that there would be a growing demand for electricity to be met by low-carbon generation, including nuclear.
The director general of the London-based World Nuclear Association said the European Union is one of the most ambitious regions in the world when it comes to having targets to reduce CO2 emissions. Rising said over time strategies have changed and are no longer focused just on technologies but real emission reduction as well. “The target is the real emission reduction,” she said, stressing that there is a role for nuclear energy. “You cannot do these reductions in Europe without nuclear energy. Almost a third today of electricity in Europe comes from nuclear energy so it’s a very large low-carbon energy source. And the politics are different in different countries but EU is steady going on emissions reductions, which is a good driver,” she said.
According to Rising, nuclear energy can help the transition to a low-carbon economy. “It has been proven in many countries like Sweden and France and Switzerland that you can very fast decarbonize with the help of nuclear energy,” she said. But, she added, that nuclear can also offer a long-term solution to decarbonization. “Reactors built today will most likely be there for 100 years and if you put all the qualifications for an energy source, nuclear has those qualifications like having no air pollution, having no impact on the climate change, having a very small footprint, being very reliable,” she argued.
Rising criticized Germany for planning to phase out nuclear, arguing that Europe’s largest economy will not be able to meet their emissions targets. “More or less their CO2 emissions has plateaued and have not gone down and they have not met their targets so their plan for the future to have less emissions and at the same time get rid of nuclear has demonstrated to be a failure,” Rising claimed.
She noted that many countries in Europe that had built a large nuclear program had no incentive to build something more. “Now we are getting to new times. You have to either maintain or you have to see if you can use electricity for more uses, electric vehicles or industrial processes and so on that means there will be a growing demand in Europe,” Rising said, adding that some Eastern and Central European and Balkan countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria want to built new nuclear power plants for electricity generation.
Rising argued that nuclear power could boost the European Union’s energy security as countries can store nuclear fuel at the site and be self reliant on the short term. “It’s a competitive market and if you do nuclear energy it is more-or-less a domestic energy source because you will not be depending on one single channel but there many options and it will absolutely increase it (EU energy security),” she said.
Moreover, there are newcomer countries – the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Belarus, Turkey and Bangladesh, she said. “We see also like 30 countries or more that are interested in building nuclear. So I do believe there will be growth in these regions as well,” she said.
Turning to the United States, Rising said the focus for the US right now is to keep the reactors they have going. “Most of the reactors that are in operation are designed for 40 years of operations and they had already done the 60-year license approval for most of the reactors and they are starting to look how they can do 80 years so extended license operations and that will give a lot of low-carbon energy for an extended time,” Rising said.
The problem of nuclear waste
Rising acknowledged that dealing with nuclear waste is an important issue. “There is waste, but there is no necessity to hurry the implementation of final disposal, because it has very small volumes that can be stored properly and there is also technology already described and proven how to do it. What has been quite slow is in many countries around the world to get the policy in place in order to approve final repository for the high-level waste,” Rising said.
She noted that Finland is already constructing their final repository. Her home-country Sweden is getting a license to construct one as well. “There was a selection process to find a suitable municipality. There was in Sweden also even a competition between several municipalities. They wanted to have the final repository. So I think it’s more or less a decision-making process. The licensing process will take time. The technology is there and the good thing about nuclear waste is there is waste. Why? Because this is not emitted to the atmosphere,” Rising argued. Nuclear energy is more or less separate from the ecosystem. It’s very clean, it’s very small footprint but the waste is to be taken care of and there are methods to do it but it’s not going fast. I can agree with that,” she added.
“I’d like to use Sweden as an example again because Sweden put a law in place that there are no new reactors to be allowed to get a license to be built unless there was demonstration how the waste could be taken care of and that was fulfilled otherwise like three or four or five of the Swedish reactors would not have been started unless there was already a demonstration how to do it,” Rising said. “This was, of course, on paper but the money is also there and every kilowatt hour you generate with nuclear energy you put a little bit of money aside to be able to do this,” she said, concluding: “If we look to the whole history of nuclear in the world, there has not been an accident where there has been any damage because of radiation from high-level waste. Never, it’s one of the most controlled.”