Nuclear claims its rightful place as a low-carbon generation source – delivering business benefits to projects and operators

In January 2016, the State of New York Public Service Commission ruled that the state's Clean Energy Standard (CES) portfolio must include nuclear power plants among its non-carbon-emitting generation resources[1]. The decision – which came as a boost to the nuclear industry in the US – represents the latest step forward for nuclear power, in its efforts to gain global recognition as a key component of efforts to tackle climate change.

It’s a message that’s already being heeded in the UK. Currently, nuclear power accounts for 16% of Britain's overall electricity supply – a figure projected to rise to around 25% by 2025. Its pursuit of this goal has seen the UK become the first country to start to build new private sector-funded nuclear power stations in a competitive electricity market. Also, nuclear’s classification as a low-carbon technology under the UK’s Electricity Market Reform (EMR) programme means it can take advantage of mechanisms such as Contracts for Difference.[2]

Meanwhile, on the global stage, the potential role of nuclear in reducing carbon impacts from power generation was a central theme of last December’s COP21 summit in Paris. During the event, Loreta Stankeviciute – Energy Economist at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – stressed that nuclear energy should be considered on equal footing with other low-carbon energy sources in weighing the energy options for mitigating climate change, in recognition of its broader potential for contributing to sustainable development.[3]

Stankeviciute was speaking at a session hosted jointly by the IAEA and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency, which has also consistently highlighted the credentials of nuclear power as a way to drive carbon emissions out of the generation mix. It’s worth reading the conclusions reached by NEA in their 2012 report entitled “The Role of Nuclear Energy in a Low-carbon Energy Future”

Given the rising urgency of the climate change challenge, it isn’t hard to see why nuclear generation is attracting such strong support from so many well-informed stakeholders. While it often gets bracketed with renewable sources such as solar and wind, it actually emits less carbon than either of them.

Such advantages are helping nuclear to be recognised as a low- or zero-carbon energy and become a growing component of the wider generation debate. True, issues and concerns remain around dealing with waste. But even some environmentalists acknowledged that, assuming it’s managed properly, nuclear’s low carbon impacts give it an edge over other generation sources.

So, what does all this mean for nuclear generation investments and projects going forward? Classification as low-carbon brings much more than a warm glow: it also generates hard business benefits, by boosting public buy-in and making governments more favourably disposed towards nuclear, resulting in it being easier to get financing and subsidies for nuclear build projects

The message is clear. Nuclear generation has the potential to play a central role in a low-carbon future. The more widely this possible role is understood, the greater the chance that nuclear will have the opportunity to fulfil it. So today’s recognition of nuclear’s low-carbon credentials will translate into tomorrow’s rising investment in nuclear generation.

To read more about my views on financing nuclear, please click here