November 2019, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy AgencyIf you lose nuclear power, it could be too late [for climate change]
This year we celebrate the second anniversary of the Voices of Nuclear.
Time to go back to the roots of this idea and see what, if anything, has changed.
When, end of 2017, I went to see Claude Jaouen, former Senior Executive Vice President of the Reactors and Services division, with the plan to mobilize the employees of the nuclear industry to show the real face and the real benefits of using nuclear energy to fight climate change, I had left AREVA for 3 years already.
Claude and I, both, had left AREVA: with a passion for the work and the topic but with no strings or emotional attachment remaining. Our job there was done, and we were off to new horizons, new projects and new challenges.
In 2014, I had left AREVA to purposefully join the climate discussions heading to the COP21 and hopefully to the Paris Agreement that was to be negotiated by December 2015. As member of the French representation of the UN Global Compact, the UN entity in charge of the relationship to the business and financial world, I was taking my part of the challenge to bring business on board the climate fight. With Brice Lalonde, former French Minister of the Environment, former under-secretary general to the UN for the organization of Rio +20 and former France climate ambassador, we created the Business & Climate Summit and toured the COP actors and scene for three years.
2 months in the job, an excerpt of one of my emails, to the small team we were, found its way, with my name and picture, in an article in Mediapart called “Climate: the nuclear lobby finds its way at the highest vanguard post” from a charming journalist, Jade Lindgaard, to whom objectivity in journalism is an ideology that poses real problems. To start with, everything just in the title was wrong. And I verged panic .
The email asked for nuclear energy to be represented in a roundtable about energy along with oil and gas and renewables. At the Business & Climate Summit, we invited the Saudi minister of oil and mineral resources, the OGCI (Oil and Gas Climate Initiative), there was talk about coal and how to handle the social aspects linked to it, but nuclear was not welcome. The word “nuclear” itself was absent of the official French Pavilion at the COP21 site. None of the French officials would mention the word either at any of the meetings, public or not, notwithstanding the others.
The nuclear industry was encouraged to be discreet, and so was I.
Three years and two babies later, I had really tried and given all the chances I could to alternative sources of energy and had realized, in complete dismay, how vast the whole fraud was.
I drew three lessons from these three years of climate negotiations:
- Climate change is much worse than what we think and can imagine it is
- Nuclear power is key against climate change, a game changer
- Climate actions and talk are mostly spent killing the solution, instead of addressing the problem.
I had left the nuclear industry to better address climate change and realized that to do so I should go back where I was coming from. Of course, AREVA since then had collapsed, as had Westinghouse, in the aftermath of Fukushima. So, it didn’t happen exactly like that.
There was a fourth lesson: the nuclear industry was not able to reverse the course of public opinion alone. If it did try hard, it didn’t work. Civil society had become a key factor in influencing people, politics and the media and nuclear energy was its enemy.
In 2018, I was using my unemployment money and savings to create the NGO Voices of Nuclear.
December 2019, 4 years later after COP21.
Meet Jadwiga Najder,
Vice Chair of the ENS Young Generation Network, Polish origin, nuclear engineer, member of the Voices, regular attendant of all the Nuclear Pride Fest from Munich to Brussels to Paris. She was at the COP25 with Nuclear4Climate, carrying, along the polar bears of the Voices, her invaluable contribution to the effort and our hopes that it was heard.
Why were the Voices not represented as an organization? Unfortunately, we did not have the budget to be there and carry our message, your message, where it is so tenuous it is hardly heard, where it is so important. We could have been one more pronuclear civil society organization there to balance out the hundreds present carrying an opposite message.
Jadwiga was there though, and she is telling us what happened and what progresses we made in 4 years:
Key annual meetings of the international response to climate change, the Conference of Parties (COP) presents in a nutshell the priorities and attitudes of each of the participating countries, as well as gives an overview of citizen involvement by welcoming accredited NGOs. This year, the 25th edition of COP was held in Madrid and gathered 197 states and above 1200 observer organizations (out of which 1100 were NGOs), summing up to astonishing totality of almost 27 000 participants. The event included 2 weeks of negotiations (+ 2 days overtime), accompanied by exhibition booths and over 270 side events set up by the different parties and organizations present.
António Guterres, the UN secretary general, statedafter the conclusion of COP25 that he was disappointed with the results of COP25, because ”the international community has lost an important opportunity to demonstrate increased ambition in mitigation, adaptation and funding to deal with the climate crisis”. Interesting question to pose here is whether in the area of energy, among all the failed expectations related to creating new mechanisms for elimination of GHG emitters, development of clean energy sources and promoting energy efficiency, enough attention is paid to what we already have in hand. Is nuclear, the power source working effectively and having provided massive amounts of low carbon energy for many decades, granted with as much recognition as the new incentives being developed? Should the topic of nuclear have been included in Guterres’ list of failures?
So, how much was the world second low carbon energy source talked about?
At a balance of 3 pronuclear out of 1200 participants : the usual suspects have done their very best.
All over the conference venue, the atmosphere of emergency and fresh wave of motivation was felt in the air, from the motto #TimeForAction to the prominent role of young climate activists in side-event talks.However, energy from atomsdid not receive much attention among parties. The opening statements of participating countries included only one mention of the word nuclear, made by the US representative (click for the full speech), who declared continuation of investments in R&D in nuclear… as well as in natural gas and “clean coal”…
High-level segment of the conference welcomed two important figures presenting the vital role of nuclear in climate-saving efforts. The first days of COP were marked by the speech of WNA’s King Lee during a UN-organized event focusing on the ninth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 9) – “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure” (click for the full speech). Addressing his audience, Lee started by demonstrating the role of nuclear in view of the fight against climate change. According to him, multiple energy, alternative and medical applications, being implemented now and in the nearest future, demonstrated how legitimate nuclear was in the scope of SDG 9. The representative of WNA also familiarized the public with Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future (NICE Future) initiative which envisions a deep cooperation of all low-carbon energy sources with its current project Flexible Nuclear Campaign: Nuclear-Renewable Integration for Advanced Clean Energy Systems.
Next, second week of high-level part of COP provided a speech of freshly appointed Director General of IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, who represented nuclear during the side event on SDG 9 – “Affordable and clean energy” (click for the full speech). After describing the role of nuclear power in the current energy system, Grossi reminded that renewables and nuclear should not be seen as rivals. Apart from that, he mentioned that IAEA fulfils 9 out of 17 SDGs by its various contributions not only to nuclear power production surveillance, but also by developing new food products, water resources management, predicting future conditions and assessing the effects of climate change.
So what about the rest? What about the 1200 other actors?
After we mentioned the parties and distinguished guests, the time has come to talk about all the rest of participants – various public benefit organizations, grassroots NGOs, initiatives, being the closest to the public, acting, educating themselves and their surroundings about climate change.
In this group nuclear was represented by the Nuclear for Climate (N4C) initiative, made up of around 150 associations acting around the world. With a great number of over 30 representatives, N4C members organized a nuclear corner in the exhibition space, several happenings using Melty bears as a sign of climate emergency and hundreds of conversations with curious individuals passing by the booth. The collective led also the only (!) NGO side event on the thema of nuclear power (not counting in the debate calling for nuclear disarmament, however noble the goal, but what was it really doing there?). The panel discussion ‘No time to lose – why the world needs all low-carbon energy sources to achieve its climate goals’ welcomed Valérie Faudon, co-founder of N4C and vice-president of the European Nuclear Society (ENS), Ignacio Araluce, president of the Spanish Nuclear Industry Forum, Sebastien Richet, chair of the Global Initiative to Save Our Climate (GISOC) and myself – Jadwiga Najder, vice-chair of the ENS Young Generation Network. The topics covered were climate emergency, unfounded confidence in some energy sources and not in the others, the potential of nuclear to supply all the energy needs of global population using the resources already available andmany more. A comprehensive WNN article on this event can be found here: Nuclear for Climate speaks at COP25.
But what about the “other” side of the wall?
Naturally, COP25 was also a playground for anti-nuclear activists. They were mostly related to “Don’t nuke the climate”, the NGO, which, during the Madrid conference, received support by German Minister of Environment (click for the source). Its members actively commented the panel discussion raising wishes like 100% renewable energy production and disapproving the conditions of uranium mining, the pace of construction and waste storage. Their concerns (or rather attacks, click here for the Q&A streaming from the event) were addressed as much as time constraints allowed, since it’s no secret that such debates could last long days. However unfounded some comments were, there is always a bright side of things, which was acknowledged by Valerie Faudon, saying: “Actually, our standards are very high because of anti-nuclear organizations, because we’ve been under so much scrutiny”.
To sum up,
it is not anti-nuclear organizations destroying the image of nuclear in climate talks. It’s overall reluctance and lack of interest among the decision makers and NGOs.
The question whether nuclear showed all its colors during COP, the answer is NO.
Following simple numbers, 1% of side events included nuclear in the talks. On the contrary, at least 5% of them were dedicated to renewables (as titles indicate, probably more if content of events was investigated).
In Madrid it was clearly seen – it is not anti-nuclear organizations destroying the image of nuclear in climate talks. It’s overall reluctance and lack of interest among the decision makers and NGOs.
For many of them there is just no link between nuclear and fight against climate change, which is very bad news – it means they just follow the trend, not the reason.
For us, nuclear advocates, COP can be a moment to challenge all our ideas and beliefs when facing very difficult public with each of the individuals being sure he has a unique solution to climate change.
To me, COP brings plenty of inspiration, showing how crucial is proper education about the benefits of keeping current reactor fleets, adding new powers and developing technologies. And the stake is high, since nuclear is a frontline player in the clean energy production today and can be a game-changer of tomorrow, if it is properly acknowledged, supported in front of public and investors.
A big thank you to Jadwiga and to all of those who were at COP25, for representing the hard work of all employees and supporters of the nuclear industry and for being the relentless advocates of how important nuclear is in the fight against climate change.
on the behalf of the Voices team
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