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IPCC Working Group III Recommends Nearly Quadrupling Nuclear Energy

Rod Adams's picture
President and CEO, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
  • Member since 2006
  • 969 items added with 334,645 views
  • Apr 20, 2014

Nuclear Power and the IPCC Report

A few of my pronuclear friends have been disappointed by the treatment of nuclear energy in the recently released final draft of the IPCC working group III Summary for policy makers. For example, Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues thinks that the IPCC is prejudiced against nuclear energy.

While there may be some members of the body who don’t like nuclear energy very much, the rational, numerate members of IPCC working group III managed to slide some very important words past the dissenters in a way that makes me, as a lover of careful wording, want to praise their composition skills.

Policy makers should note that the word ‘nuclear’ appears 11 times in the summary. In four of those important passages, it is a key component of a short list of zero- and low-carbon energy sources.

  • At the global level scenarios reaching 450 ppm are also characterized by more rapid improvements in energy efficiency, a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero- and low-carbon supply from renewables, nuclear energy AND fossil energy with carbon capture and storage (CCS) OR bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050. (p. 15)
  • Zero- and low-carbon energy supply includes renewables, nuclear energy, AND fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), OR bioenergy with CCS (BECCS). (p. 16)
  • In the majority of low-stabilization scenarios, the share of low-carbon electricity supply (comprising renewable energy (RE) nuclear AND CCS) increases from the current share of approximately 30% to more than 80% by 2050, AND fossil fuel power generation without CCS is phased out almost entirely by 2100. (p. 23)
  • annual investment in low-carbon electricity supply (i.e., renewables nuclear AND electricity generation with CCS) is projected to rise by about USD 147 (31-360) billion (median: +100% compared to 2010) (p. 29)

(Emphasis and capitalization of operators added.)

Not only have I spent time smithing words for human consumption in intensely political environments, but I also have a fair understanding of Boolean logic. I admire what the IPCC authors have accomplished. In both human communications and computer programming, the operators ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ have important meanings. So do modifiers like ‘with’. (Fossil with CCS is a completely different animal than fossil without CCS.)

In my analysis, the recommendation for policy makers is quite clear. The only way to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentration at acceptably low levels is to nearly quadruple the output of renewables, nuclear, AND electricity generation from fossil or bioenergy with CCS. The ‘and’ means that all of the items on the list are needed, the program cannot pick and choose the one or two that it likes the best.

However, since current electricity generation with CCS is virtually zero, nearly quadrupling it will mean it is still nearly zero in 2050. Renewables will gain a substantial market share, but the biggest current source of zero- or low-carbon energy in the developed world — nuclear energy — will have to grow the most in absolute terms to keep doing its share of the heavy lifting.

IPCC working group III also provides some explanation for the current state of nuclear energy and its perceived utility.

Nuclear energy is a mature low-GHG emission source of baseload power, but its share of global electricity generation has been declining (since 1993). Nuclear energy could make an increasing contribution to low-carbon energy supply, but a variety of barriers and and risks exist (robust evidence, high agreement)
Those include: operational risks, and the associated concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement. New fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of these issues are being investigated and progress in research and development has been made concerning safety and waste disposal.

That explanation, in my opinion, is carefully worded to answer the logical questions that curious policy makers would be sure to ask – “If nuclear energy is a proven, mature, low- or zero-emission power source, why isn’t its use growing?” The IPCC working group has informed policy makers that the engineers and scientists are doing their part of addressing the reasons why nuclear energy has not been growing for the past 20 years, but the rest of the issues must be tackled by the policy makers themselves.

Most of the listed barriers to increasing clean energy output using atomic fission are political, not technical. That does not make them any more difficult to solve. In fact, the solutions are at hand, now all we need is a little more honesty and accurate risk assessment. The public’s opinion can be swayed by the people who have assumed the burden of leadership and spend most of their days working to influence the public to do the right thing.

The post IPCC working group III recommends nearly quadrupling nuclear energy appeared first on Atomic Insights.

Photo Credit: IPCC and Nuclear Power/shutterstock

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Apr 21, 2014

If fossil fuel power ‘carbon capture and sequester’ options were truly viable alternatives to zero/low carbon baseload power generation capacity, then the expansion of nuclear would be the obvious most cost effective solution.  However, nuclear still faces the political opposition over all technological, economic and practical feasibility factors that keep directing most Government’s policies primarily towards much more costly and generally less sustainable renewable options.  If the IPCC truly supports the reality that to substantially reduce the need for fossil fuels (primarily coal) requires nuclear, they need to make this position much more obvious than their latest report, which still buries the required nuclear option within a huge document that few people (other than individuals like yourself) are willing to read, analyze and summarize-publish in a much more transparent form; for the more general Public’s reasonable clarity-understanding.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Apr 22, 2014

Rod, I think you’re reading more into the IPCC report than was likely intended.  For a bunch of climate scientists, the single most important thing they need to help society plan is the target level of CO2 emissions we should plan shoot for.  

How to get to that target is a highly political question whose answer will vary by country and over time.  No doubt many countries will head down very expensive paths or paths that don’t go anywhere.  Even if the IPCC liked nuclear better than renewables, it’s not their job to say so.  I think they may have erred in the direction of exagerating the barriers to new nuclear by taking too much of a Euro-centric view.   

Theoretically its possible for a grid with lots of renewables to match the CO2 output from a nuclear-rich grid, as long as the renewables are hugely over-built, or the fossil fuel backup uses CC&S.  The IPCC’s duties end at warning people the non-nuclear, non-CC&S options are very expensive, and they’ve done that (although I think they may be underestimating the cost penalty in the nuclear-free case, by using the “discounted cost” instead of future cost).

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Apr 22, 2014

Willem, we can only hope that sanity will develop one day in organizations such as the IPCC on the reality of how to feasibly-cost effectively & sustainably replace higher carbon power generation technologies with the benefits of zero carbon nuclear power.

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on Apr 22, 2014


Did you even read my post? Working Group III of the IPCC was formed to provide suggestions for workable solutions. They have clearly stated that nuclear is part of the very short list of suggestions and they have identified to policy makers that the main obstacles in the way of using more nuclear are political and must be solved by policy makers, not engineers or scientists.

That is a good thing. We do not have time to wait for inventions like “reliable electricity storage” or cost effective “carbon capture and storage” but we have plenty of time to allow people to change their minds. Popularity of technology like nuclear can be changed almost as quickly as we can change our minds about the best available smart phones.

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on Apr 22, 2014

@Willem Post

I am not getting my hopes up just based on the IPCC report, but on what I see as a growing consensus among honest scientists and engineers who are justly concerned about the continuing effects of unrestricted CO2 dumping. People like Hansen, Wigley, Calderia and Emanuel are finding a voice and telling people the truth that needs to be repeated – climate change is a big risk and the most important available solution that is ready today to tackle the problem is nuclear energy.

Wind is playing a role today and may continue to grow, but it cannot do the job that we need our power sources to do. It cannot provide power when and where we need it; it is more of an opportunistic, fair weather power source that is destined to play a minor role.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Apr 23, 2014

The IPCC’s duties end at warning people the non-nuclear, non-CC&S options are very expensive, and they’ve done that (although I think they may be underestimating the cost penalty in the nuclear-free case, by using the “discounted cost” instead of future cost).”

Did the IPCC warn policy makers about the costs of intermittent renewable energy integration? I don’t think so. I think their cost models assume zero-cost of renewable energy integration, while in reality – at high penetrations – the integration costs will be at least as great as the LCOE cost of the RE generation by itself. This will ensure that countries which embark on non-nuclear decarbonisation will fail miserably, putting all the world at risk. Germany and Denmark are the canaries in the coal mine.


Lewis Perelman's picture
Lewis Perelman on Apr 25, 2014

Discussions such as this prompt me to wonder what the utility of IPCC’s prouncements really is.

I resist the temptation to add “if any,” because apparently IPCC output serves at least as fodder for political wranglers, media churners, and academic careerists. The same may be said of the UN’s entire, futile negotiation process.

What is not so clear is whether IPCC activity helps foment much in the way of practical solutions. IPCC seems far more oriented toward diagnosis than toward prescription. Perhaps it should stay limited to that.

To the extent that IPCC suggests solutions, they seem to be contrived for an idealized world that does not exist in reality — as suggested by the comments here.


Steve Darden's picture
Steve Darden on Sep 26, 2014

Joris, do you agree that the System LCOE paper you cited is the best published work on integration costs? It is the best that I’ve been able to find.

There are three excellent PIK papers that are the best quality in my “VRE Full Cost Library”:

1 Hirth, Lion, The Optimal Share of Variable Renewables. How the Variability of Wind and Solar Power Affects Their Welfare-Optimal Deployment (November 8, 2013). FEEM Working Paper No. 90.2013. Available at SSRN: or

2 Ueckerdt, Falko and Hirth, Lion and Luderer, Gunnar and Edenhofer, Ottmar, System LCOE: What are the Costs of Variable Renewables? (January 14, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

3 Hirth, Lion and Ueckerdt, Falko and Edenhofer, Ottmar, Why Wind is Not Coal: On the Economics of Electricity (April 24, 2014). FEEM Working Paper No. 39.2014. Available at SSRN: or

There’s a serious problem with WGIII Chapter 7 where authors profile cost of low carbon options. They chose to use high 10% discount rate to make nuclear look too expensive. We just put up a guest post by physicist Jani-Petri Martikainen who has dissected the tricky misdirection of Chapter 7.

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