Nuclear power could play a crucial role in helping achieve net-zero, but a lack of political will and under-developed national strategies are holding back the development and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies. Increasing the share of nuclear power could offer a crucial way for developed countries to decarbonize their grids and for developing countries to expand energy access while limiting emissions. As outlined in FP Analytics Firm Zero-Emission Power special report, the clean energy solutions of the future will include a range of cleaner energy sources, including advanced nuclear approaches, carbon capture technology, and geothermal techniques. Effectively developing and implementing these technologies, and identifying ways that firm, zero-emission sources can augment renewables will be key in order to slash emissions and provide reliable sources of power.  

To address these issues, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and Foreign Policy convened a group of experts to discuss strategies for safely and effectively scaling firm, zero-emission energy to help meet net-zero targets. The discussion included four though-provoking sessions moderated by Reena Ninan, the founder of Good Trouble Productions. Highlights from each session are below.

As more countries set the ambitious target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, there are significant obstacles that governments, private companies, and other stakeholders still need to overcome. Primary among these is diversifying zero-emission energy sources, securing supply chains, and creating clear regulatory guidelines.

Key Takeaways

– Nuclear can play an integral role alongside wind and solar power to help reach global zero-emission targets.

– Sufficient private capital exists to fund the net-zero transition, but investors are concerned that many clean energy sources remain too risky.

– Regulatory environments and supply chains need to be improved to address risks and effectively scale advanced technologies for cleaner, more reliable power.

Session 1: Assessing the European Energy Crisis Renewable Goals

Robert Bryce, Author, Journalist, Film Producer, and Host of the Power Hungry Podcast

Building off his recent congressional testimony, Robert Bryce made the case that renewable energy sources alone are insufficient to meet global energy demands. He asserted that Europe’s push to transition its domestic energy supply fully to renewable energy sources, while relying on imports of gas and oil to fill the gap, was a critical misstep. According to Bryce, Europe leaned too heavily on renewables, while closing domestic nuclear and coal plants, which left critical energy infrastructure vulnerable to fluctuations in weather conditions and external energy suppliers. Further, many developing countries are still in the early stages of expanding their energy grids and are willing to forgo net-zero goals if it means increasing widespread access to electricity. For these countries, exclusively relying on renewable, weather-dependent, energy sources in a time of exacerbating climate change is unlikely to be a viable option. To mitigate risks and help meet future energy demands in both developed and developing countries, governments and stakeholders in these countries should instead focus on diversifying their energy mix to include, renewables, nuclear, and natural gas, he contends.

Session 2: Examining the UAE’s Success in Scaling Nuclear and Solar Energy

His Excellency Mohamed Al Hammadi, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, ENEC

In a one-on-one interview, His Excellency Mohamed Al Hammadi spoke to the UAE’s success scaling both nuclear and renewable energy and laid out a pathway for how other countries can replicate this model. In 2007, the UAE initiated a technology agnostic strategy focused on diversifying and de-carbonizing its energy sector through a combination of nuclear and solar energy alongside natural gas. Energy demand will continue to grow, as more of the world is becoming electrified and global demand for services such as internet data storage increases, making a secure and reliable grid critical. Being dependent on one energy source is neither the most sustainable, or reliable, and countries across the world can benefit from a similar energy diversification strategy. The UAE’s integration of nuclear and solar has put it on track to achieve one of the most effective carbon-reduction strategies in the region. Now, the UAE is aiming to work with other countries to help deliver resilient energy supplies and has outlined a comprehensive strategy to do so.

Session 3: Establishing Clear Regulatory Regimes, and Driving Private Investment in Energy Innovation

Dr. Sama Bilbao y León, Director General, World Nuclear Association

Dr. David Victor, Professor, Center for Global Transformation Endowed Chair in Innovation and Public Policy

Neil Wilmshurst, Senior Vice President of Energy System Resources; Acting Vice President of Nuclear and Chief Nuclear Officer, EPRI

In the panel discussion, experts Sama Bilbao y León, David Victor, and Neil Wilmshurst fielded a wide range of questions covering topics that included U.S. leadership in nuclear, expanding energy grids in the developing world, and increasing private investment. To achieve each of these goals, panelists stressed the importance of moving from climate policies to energy policies—concrete plans that lay out a roadmap for achieving existing objectives. To develop these policies, examples should be pulled from countries that have successfully created policies governing zero-emission energy sources. For example, France has nuclear energy at the core of its policy, generating 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy. Further, Canada and Sweden have both created a comprehensive process for removing spent nuclear fuel, something the U.S. could adopt to push forward its nuclear leadership. Likewise, India has successfully integrated solar as a key energy source, providing a model for other developing countries to follow. While examples of scaling clean energy sources exist, significant gaps in private investment and global regulatory regimes are holding back progress. To drive investment in clean and renewable energy sources, national strategies that lay out clear regulatory guidance need to be developed. For nuclear energy, global regulatory agreements need to be solidified and expanded. While some progress has been made on this to date, Russia is currently the largest exporter of nuclear reactors, with the future of that country set to have implications for the global industry writ large.

Session 4: Dispelling Common Misperceptions About Nuclear Energy Risks

Ted Nordhaus, Founder and Executive Director, The Breakthrough Institute

In the final session, Ted Nordhaus addressed questions centering on concerns about the safety and viability of nuclear power plants. The recent Russian attacks on the Chernobyl nuclear plant located in Ukraine generated fears of a nuclear explosion or widespread radiation from a potential leak. As outlined in the discussion, modern nuclear plants have significant safeguards that help insulate the nuclear reactor from leaking radiation into the environment, even in the event of an attack. Despite perceptions that a nuclear accident would have catastrophic consequences, accidents at nuclear plants are exceedingly rare and nuclear is one of the comparably safest energy sources. Further, nuclear plants can provide baseload power alongside renewables such as wind and solar. Effectively integrating nuclear into countries’ energy portfolios relies on directly addressing and elevating awareness about safety, and creating a stable regulatory environment for nuclear research and development. To deploy nuclear energy in a more cost-effective manner, countries must invest now in securing supply chains, creating strong regulatory frameworks, and building a skilled workforce of engineers and plant operators.