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Global leaders call for Australia to join tripling of nuclear capacity by 2050

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By Colin Hay - 
COP28 triple nuclear power 2050 climate change greenhouse gas net zero Australia

French president Emmanuel Macron has urged Australia to consider joining the growing number of countries that have signed on to include nuclear power in their energy mix.

Speaking outside the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), President Macron said Australia should lift its ban on nuclear energy.

He also urged global nations to “commit to putting an end to coal” by 2030, stating that investing in coal was “truly an absurdity”.

Triple capacity pledge

The French leader was buoyed by the decision of 22 countries to agree to move to a tripling of global nuclear capacity, while cutting fossil fuel use.

France and the United States joined 20 other countries who have pledged to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050.

In a general statement, the participating nations said the revival of nuclear power was critical for cutting carbon emissions to near zero in the coming decades.

Nuclear critical to climate change fight

Appearing at COP28, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said the world needs nuclear power to fight climate change and action should be taken to expand the use of this clean energy source and help build “a low carbon bridge” to the future.

Supported by dozens of countries at COP28, Mr Grossi said the broad international backing underlined the increased global interest in nuclear power to tackle the existential challenge of a rapidly warming planet.

“The IAEA and its Member States that are nuclear energy producers and those working with the IAEA to promote the benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear energy acknowledge that all available low-emission technologies should be recognized and actively supported,” Mr Grossi said.

Net zero aspirations

“Net zero needs nuclear power. Nuclear power emits no greenhouse gasses when it is produced and contributes to energy security and the stability of the power grid, while facilitating the broader uptake of solar and wind power.”

According to the IAEA, 412 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries make up more than 370 gigawatts of installed capacity, providing almost 10% of the world’s total electricity and a quarter of its low-carbon supply.

“Several countries – including Bangladesh, Egypt and [Turkey] – are building their first nuclear power plants, while many others have also decided to introduce nuclear energy.”

“In addition, existing nuclear power countries, including China, France, India and Sweden to name a few, are planning to expand their nuclear programmes.”

“Studies confirm that the goal of global net zero carbon emissions can only be reached by 2050 with swift, sustained and significant investment in nuclear energy,” the IAEA said.

It underlined the importance of innovations in the nuclear sector such as small modular reactors that aim to make nuclear power easier to build, more flexible to deploy and more affordable.

“Continuous plant life management and refurbishment ensure the ongoing safety and reliability of our existing fleet, allowing it to provide decarbonized energy to the electric grid and other sectors,” it added.

Major impact on greenhouse gas production

According to the IAEA, nuclear power has avoided the release of some 30 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the 21st century.

“It can also contribute to addressing climate change in areas apart from generating electricity, notably in helping to decarbonise district heating, desalination, industry processes and hydrogen production,” the statement highlighted.

“Resilient and robust nuclear power has the potential to play a wider role in the quest towards net zero carbon emissions, while ensuring the highest level of nuclear safety and security.”

However, Mr Grossi admitted that achieving a fair and enabling investment environment for new nuclear projects remains an uphill battle.

“We are not at a level playing field, yet, when it comes to financing nuclear projects.”

“Analysts widely agree that nuclear power capacity will need to more than double by 2050 for current climate goals to be reached.”

“We will need even more capacity to go beyond the electricity grid and decarbonise transport and industry.”