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Nuclear Curbs Will Hurt Climate, Energy Security Goal, IEA Says

Slowing the expansion of nuclear power will harm efforts to fight climate change, push up energy prices and set back goals to secure power supplies, said Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency.

Cutting in half the projected new nuclear installations during the next 25 years may add 500 million tons of carbon dioxide output to the global total in 2035, equivalent to five years of extra emissions growth, Birol said today in a telephone interview from Paris.

“There will be increased difficulty in adding new nuclear power plants, and there will be increased pressure in some countries to close earlier the existing nuclear power plants,” after the Japanese crisis, Birol said. “That would increase the cost of energy for the entire world. It’ll also be bad news for energy security because there is less diversification of the energy mix, and it’ll be bad news for climate change.”

The figures show the difficulty policymakers face in balancing the need for energy with increased safety concerns surrounding nuclear power after radiation leaked from the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi facility.

President Barack Obama is making a speech today about the future energy mix in the U.S. and will offer new incentives to spur oil and gas production, according to two administration officials. Japan, China, India, Britain, Switzerland and Germany are reviewing their nuclear plans based on lessons learned at Fukushima.

The IEA, which advises 28 nations on energy policy, in November projected the world will add 360 gigawatts of new nuclear generating capacity to the existing 390 gigawatts by 2035. Since the accident at the Fukushima, the agency modeled the possible consequences of a halving of that new build to 180 gigawatts, Birol said.

Climate Goal

Birol said that cutting back on nuclear plans would make it harder to meet a goal agreed by 193 nations at United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010 to try to contain global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The level of emissions expected in 2035 would instead be reached in 2030, he said.

Assuming the gap is filled equally by coal, gas and renewables, emissions will rise, as will coal and gas prices, Birol said. The agency hasn’t predicted the magnitude of the price increases, he said, noting that some reactions to the Japanese crisis have been “too abrupt.”

The figure showing what would happen by cutting the nuclear expansion in half is an estimate, not a forecast of how policy will turn out in the IEA nations, Birol said.

“We all as energy actors, producers and users have to derive major lessons” from Fukushima, Birol said. “It’s still important to have a realistic assessment of the global energy future, and nuclear still needs to play a role,” he said, citing reasons of “climate change, energy security and having affordable energy for the citizens of the world.”

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