End of 2019 year blog

Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo Chairman New Nuclear Watch Institute

The selection of a teenage activist as Time magazine Person of the Year symbolises the upsurge in public concern about climate change in the last twelve months.

The only surprise about this upsurge is that it didn't happen sooner, given that the changes now occurring were predicted by scientists thirty years ago. But despite belated public recognition of the dangers the response of most governments continues to be alarmingly inadequate.

It's now clear that action on a scale never previously contemplated must be taken immediately if irreversible climate change is to be avoided. In these circumstances it's worrying that CoP 25 recently ended in failure, unable even to agree how wider use of carbon markets can cut the cost of reducing emissions.

All this poses a particular challenge to the energy industry. But as we cross the threshold of a new decade this challenge is also a huge opportunity for the nuclear industry.

During 2019 more and more organisations - from the International Energy Agency to the United Nations, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development - concluded that overcoming the threat of climate change will require substantial investment in nuclear energy.

So in 2020 the nuclear energy industry must achieve two key goals. The first task is to harness the support of these important organisations and win over the doubters. Starry eyed enthusiasts who claim to be worried about climate change and then go on to assert that renewables alone can replace fossil fuels are often well intentioned but their argument is deeply misleading.

As any country starts to depend on intermittent renewables to generate more than 50 per cent of its electricity its costs rise very sharply and its energy security is weakened.

Nevertheless there's a risk the renewable energy lobby is influencing EU policy. While it's excellent that the new President of the European Commission has put climate issues at the top of her agenda for the next five years the row about the EU taxonomy exposes a disappointing ambivalence in Europe's attitude to nuclear.

Failure to treat nuclear as a low carbon technology alongside renewables is a serious mistake. Lumping it along with gas as merely a transitional fuel is a judgment completely unsupported by evidence. We must all work hard to get this approach changed as quickly as possible.

The second task in 2020 is to drive forward the technical progress being made in various countries towards advanced reactors, including SMRs. Coupled with greater regulatory harmonisation this progress will help both to cut costs and to widen the market for future investment in new capacity.

Here at NNWI we're planning a full programme of activities in 2020 in which we will focus on these and other topical issues. We intend to follow up the successful Forum we held in November with another international conference in London bringing together industry leaders and policy makers from across Europe. We will also hold a series of breakfast panel discussions, each of will focus on a topical nuclear industry themes.

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