Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Fiala speaks under sign reading "Tripling Nuclear Energy"

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Fiala speaks during the Tripling Nuclear Energy by 2050 session at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 2, 2023.

(Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)

Plot to Triple Nuclear Power by 2050 Decried as 'Dangerous Distraction' at COP28

"Investing now in nuclear energy is an inefficient route to take to reduce emissions at the scale and pace needed to tackle climate change," said one campaigner.

Climate campaigners scoffed Saturday at a 22-nation pledge to triple nuclear power capacity by mid-century as a way to ward off the increasing damage of warming temperatures, with opponents calling it a costly and "dangerous" distraction from the urgent need for a fossil fuel phaseout alongside a rapid increase in more affordable and scaleable renewable sources such as wind and solar.

The Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy—backed by the United States, Canada, France, the Czech Republic, and others—was announced as part of the Climate Action Summit taking place in Dubai as a part of the two-week U.N. climate talks known as COP28.

While the document claims a "key role" for nuclear energy to keep "a 1.5°C limit on temperature rise within reach" by 2050 and to help attain the so-called "net-zero emissions" goal that governments and the fossil fuel industry deploy to justify the continued burning of coal, oil, and gas, critics say the false solution of atomic power actually harms the effort to reduce emissions by wasting precious time and money that could be spent better and faster elsewhere.

"There is no space for dangerous nuclear power to accelerate the decarbonization needed to achieve the Paris climate goal," said Masayoshi Iyoda, a campaigner in Japan who cited the 2011 Fukushima disaster as evidence of the inherent dangers of nuclear power.

"There is no space for dangerous nuclear power to accelerate the decarbonization needed to achieve the Paris climate goal."

Nuclear energy, said Iyoda, "is nothing more than a dangerous distraction. The attempt of a 'nuclear renaissance' led by nuclear industries' lobbyists since the 2000s has never been successful—it is simply too costly, too risky, too undemocratic, and too time-consuming. We already have cheaper, safer, democratic, and faster solutions to the climate crisis, and they are renewable energy and energy efficiency."

When word of the multi-nation pledge emerged last month, Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and co-founder of The Solutions Project which offers a roadmap for 100% renewable energy that excludes nuclear energy, called the proposal the "stupidest policy proposal I've ever seen."

Jacobson said the plan to boost nuclear capacity in a manner to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis "will never happen no matter how many goals are set" and added that President Joe Biden was getting "bad advice in the White House" for supporting it.

In comments from Dubai, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said that while he agrees nuclear will be a "sweeping alternative to every other energy source," but claimed that "science and the reality of facts" shows the world cannot "get to net-zero by 2050 with some nuclear."

Numerous studies and blueprints towards a renewable energy future, however, have shown this is not established fact, but rather the position taken by both the nuclear power industry itself and those who would otherwise like to slow the transition to a truly renewable energy system.

Pauline Boyer, energy transition campaign manager with Greenpeace France, said the scientific evidence is clear and it is not in favor of a surge in nuclear power.

"If we wish to maintain a chance of a trajectory of 1.5°C, we must massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming years, but nuclear power is too slow to deploy in the face of the climate emergency," she said.

"The announcement of a tripling of capacities is disconnected from reality," Boyer continued. Citing delays and soaring costs, she said the nuclear industry "is losing ground in the global energy mix every day" in favor of renewable energy options that are cheaper, quicker to deploy, and more accessible to developing countries.

In 2016, researchers at the University of Sussex and the Vienna School of International Studies showed that "entrenched commitments to nuclear power" were likely "counterproductive" towards achieving renewable energy targets, especially as "better ways to meet climate goals"—namely solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower–were suppressed.

In response to Saturday's announcement, Soraya Fettih, a campaigner from France, which relies heavily on nuclear power, said it's simply a move in the wrong direction. "Investing now in nuclear energy is an inefficient route to take to reduce emissions at the scale and pace needed to tackle climate change," said Fettih. "Nuclear energy takes much longer than renewable energy to be operational."

Writing on the subject in 2019, Harvard University professor Naomi Orseskes and renowned author and psychohistorian Robert Jay Lifton observed how advocates of nuclear power declare the technology "clean, efficient, economical, and safe" while in reality "it is none of these. It is expensive and poses grave dangers to our physical and psychological well-being."

"There are now more than 450 nuclear reactors throughout the world," they wrote at the time. "If nuclear power is embraced as a rescue technology, there would be many times that number, creating a worldwide chain of nuclear danger zones—a planetary system of potential self-annihilation."

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