• English
  • العربية
  • 中文
  • Français
  • Русский
  • Español

You are here

What Nuclear Technology Can Offer to Address Climate Change: Conclusions of the Scientific Forum


(Video: A. Silva, J. Weilguny/IAEA)

Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through low-carbon electricity, offering methods to monitor the impact of emissions on oceans and soils, and helping countries adapt to increasingly erratic weather – these are some of the areas in which nuclear technology can offer proven solutions to address some of today’s most pressing climate-related challenges.

Over two days, presenters from over 20 countries showed that nuclear technology must be part of the solution to climate change, and public awareness of this contribution should be raised. This article summarizes some of the highlights of the discussions.

In the first session looking at the role of nuclear power in mitigating CO2 emissions, speakers discussed the importance of this low-carbon energy source from the perspective of countries already using it and those considering it as part of their energy mix. The session began with a close look at the Paris Agreement and the essential role nuclear power has to play in order for the targets set by the Agreement to be met. Renowned climate scientist Tom Wigley argued for the inclusion of nuclear power in meeting climate targets: “We need to produce energy in a way that doesn’t essentially produce carbon dioxide and other gasses that affect the climate, and there are a number of ways that we can do that,” he said. “The most important way is through nuclear energy because nuclear energy can produce clean energy all the time.”

Various challenges associated with nuclear power were also explored – public acceptance being identified as the biggest obstacle to nuclear power in many countries. In this context Malcolm Grimston, from the Imperial College of London, asked: “why is the safest large-scale energy source regarded as the most dangerous by significant numbers of people”.

In addition, a panel discussion was held on the theme of innovation for the future expansion of nuclear power. Panelists outlined new reactor designs that could serve countries’ energy needs, such as small and modular reactors, as well as developments to improve safety and efficiency, and reduce costs.

Nuclear techniques to measure the impact of climate change

Measuring the impact of climate change was the main focus of Session 2. Oksana Tarasova from the World Meteorological Organization and James Orr from the Laboratory of Sciences of Climate and Environment in France provided an overview on how isotopic techniques can help monitor the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and acidification of oceans. “This knowledge is important to provide better evidence for sound policy making, but many countries are not able to apply it,” said Tarasova, calling for increased training in these methods.

Marc Bierkens from Utrecht University in the Netherlands highlighted that isotopic techniques are the only method to date groundwater resources, where a “time horizon” is crucial. This knowledge allows policy-makers to know how long it would take to replenish groundwater reservoirs, and consequently put in place adequate water management practices in the face of drier weather, he said. Christoph Mueller from the Justus-Liebig University in Germany showed that with the help of isotopic techniques, we can determine the exact origin of the agricultural greenhouse gas emissions with the highest impact on our planet – methane and nitrous oxide. This knowledge is expected to lead to more sound decision making, such as reducing fertilizers or seeking better feed for animals.

Health and food security

In the third session presenters addressed the impact of climate change on health and food security and the role of nuclear techniques. Emmanuel Chikwari, Chief Research Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development in Zimbabwe, highlighted that persistent drought is already impacting agriculture in his country, and that nuclear and isotopic techniques are helping to determine water and fertilizer needs to preserve precious water resources. Flanked by two farmers directly affected by changes in climate, Dodik Ridho Nurrochmat from Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia spoke about how nuclear technology has helped improve sustainable livestock production in Indonesia in the areas of livestock reproduction, breeding, artificial insemination and disease control programs.

Turning attention to insect pests, Romeo Bellini from the Italian Centro Agricoltura Ambiente, spoke of the threat invasive mosquito species can pose to public health through spreading into areas previously unaffected. “Aedes Aegypti, the well-known yellow fever mosquito and main vector of Dengue has already infested areas around the Black Sea, posing a risk to the Mediterranean basin,” he said. Insecticides are often no longer effective, he added, and the sterile insect technique (SIT) – a form of birth control for insects using radiation – is proving to be a valuable tool. Cara Nelson, an SIT expert from Canada, echoed this in her presentation, highlighting that the technology can be used very effectively to target damaging invasive insects, such as the codling moth, while preserving beneficial ones.

Closing panel

The Forum closed with a high-level panel discussion including IAEA Deputy Director General of the Department of Nuclear Energy Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications Aldo Malavasi, Cuban Vice Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, Jose Fidel Santana Nuñez, and Eduardo Artaxo Netto, Professor at the Applied Physics Department of the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

Artaxo started the discussion stressing that although nuclear power is crucial in mitigating CO2 emissions, it needs to address several challenges, including its long construction lead compared to other energy sources.

Nuñez reiterated that nuclear energy is one of the most strategic decisions to mitigate climate change, particularly with 1.2 billion people without access to electricity, so the world clearly needs to increase energy production in a way that does not harm the environment. He also stressed that sufficient data is crucial to devise actions to protect the environment and key resources such as the ocean and freshwater supplies, and that nuclear techniques can be very helpful in this respect.

The panel concluded that, in two of today’s most pressing climate related challenges, namely energy and food security, nuclear technology can play an essential role. The importance of continuing to raise public awareness of this contribution, as well as of the role of the IAEA to assist Member States in accessing the peaceful applications of nuclear energy, particularly through capacity building, was highlighted.

Stay in touch