Nuclear vision

OECD Observer

What role can nuclear energy play in combating climate change? According to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), it can play a very pivotal one.

The world is not on track to limit the rise in global mean temperatures to 2°C. To stay within this threshold, the global power sector, which currently emits some 40% of global carbon emissions, will need to be virtually decarbonised by 2050.

A policy paper by the NEA explains how nuclear power can contribute to this goal (see references). Nuclear energy produces 11% of global electricity, the second largest source of low-carbon power after hydro. In its 2°C scenario, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that the share of nuclear energy in global electricity production would have to rise to 17% in 2050, and installed capacity from 390 GW to 930 GW over the same time frame.

Nuclear power saves almost 2 Gt of CO2 emissions each year and avoided more than 60 Gt of CO2 emissions over the 1970-2015 period, the NEA paper points out, adding that nuclear energy is the only large scale source of low-carbon electricity that is both dispatchable and scalable. In addition, according to the NEA, its contribution to sustainable economic, social and environmental development goes beyond reducing carbon emissions; the reliable, round-the-clock provision of electricity at predictable costs, the absence of local pollutant emissions, and security of supply, not to mention benefits in terms of skills, jobs and the economy.

There are challenges, including for financing and managing a complex construction process. There are also key issues, such as assuring non-proliferation and plant safety as nuclear energy grows, managing waste, and the fact that nuclear energy can itself be vulnerable to climate change, though the NEA is confident these issues are being addressed. Securing uranium supply will also be important, for although there is a 100 years of supply at current consumption rates, more investment in mines will be needed.

Also, though nuclear fission does not produce any CO2 or other greenhouse gases, there are some indirect emissions that can be attributed to nuclear energy, in construction for instance, and from fossil fuels used in uranium mining. On the plus side, the NEA points out that the only local airborne emissions from the generation stage of the nuclear fuel cycle are minor.

In short, the contribution of nuclear power to combating climate change could prove more important than ever, and it could become the single most important source of electricity. But as the NEA warns, clear and sustained policy support from governments is needed before significant nuclear power expansion can begin in any country.

IEA-NEA (2015), Technology Roadmap: Nuclear Energy, Paris

OECD-NEA (2015), “Nuclear Energy: Combating Climate Change”, OECD Publishing, available at http://oe.cd/1aD

Visit www.oecd-nea.org   

©OECD Observer No 304 November 2015




Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q3 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% Sept 2017 annual
Trade: +4.3% exp, +4.3% imp, Q3 2017
Unemployment: 5.7% Sept 2017
Last update: 14 Nov 2017

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • The annual OECD Eurasia Week takes place in Almaty, Kazakhstan 23-25 October. Writing in The Astana Times, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría urges Eurasia countries to stay the course on openness and international integration, which has brought prosperity but also disillusionment, notably regarding inequality. The OECD is working with this key region, and Mr Gurría urges Eurasia to focus on human capital and innovation to enhance productivity and people’s well-being. Read more.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017