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Nuclear Energy Institute
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 04, 1998
Contact:, 202.739.8000 or 703.644.8805 (after hours and weekends)

A Reporter’s Guide to Nuclear Energy and the Buenos Aires Conference on Global Climate Change

BONN—In December 1997, the United States agreed during the Kyoto, Japan, global climate change conference to reduce "greenhouse gas" emissions to seven percent below 1990 emissions levels between 2008 and 2012. On November 2-13, international climate change negotiations will resume in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Nuclear energy, which respectively provides 20 percent of the United States' and 17 percent of the world's electricity, does not contribute to increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide thought by many to contribute to global climate change.

Developments at Bonn, Germany Meeting on Global Climate Change

The recognition that nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, increased during the international negotiating sessions conducted last June in Bonn, Germany, by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Following are highlights from that meeting:

  • A seven-point discussion paper presented to Ambassador Bakary Kante by the business non-governmental organizations (NGOs) said, "Flexible mechanism programs should give special consideration or recognition to non-emitting technologies, such as renewables, nuclear energy and hydroelectric power."
  • At a symposium for the delegates, an energy expert from the United States explained how nuclear energy can help meet climate change goals. David South, a vice president with Washington, D.C.-based Energy Resources International, said the importance of nuclear power generation in avoiding emissions of polluting airborne particulates has been underestimated, and he cited the nuclear energy's value in fostering compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. Increased nuclear power generation in the United States from 1990-95 has avoided 37 percent of the sulfur dioxide emissions reductions required by the Clean Air Act's acid rain program—without receiving any credit within the acid rain "cap and trade" system.

Nuclear Energy = Clean Air

  • On October 9, a Kyoto Protocol study released by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration projected that to reduce carbon emissions to 3 percent below 1990 levels, most existing nuclear power plants will have their lives extended, and 68 new 600-megawatt nuclear plants will be built by 2020. The full report is available on the Internet at
  • Nuclear energy is the United States' largest source of clean electricity. Because nuclear energy plants do not burn fossil fuels, they do not emit carbon dioxide and other combustion by-products.
  • In 1996, America's 109 nuclear power plants reduced carbon emissions by 147 million metric tons—more than double the 70 million-ton carbon reduction called for in President Clinton's 1993 Global Climate Action Plan.
  • Nuclear-generated electricity has accounted for 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions reductions by U.S. electric utilities since 1973. Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration

Nuclear Energy Provides Growing Share of World's Electricity

  • As of May 1997, a total of 444 nuclear energy plants are operating around the world. Five new nuclear power plants went on-line in 1996, bringing the total number of commercial nuclear power plants worldwide to 442. That total increased by two in April 1997, when Wolsong-2 in the Republic of Korea and a new unit at Chooz in France were added to the grid. Source: International Atomic Energy Association
  • U.S. nuclear plant designers are preparing to meet the world's growing demand for electricity with three standardized advanced nuclear plants. Two U.S.-designed advanced boiling water reactors have been built by Japan, and two others have been ordered by Taiwan. Eight South Korean units incorporate features of U.S.-designed advanced plants.
  • At the beginning of 1997, 45 nuclear power plants were under construction. Russia and South Korea are building seven nuclear energy plants each; an additional 27 nuclear units are planned worldwide. China and Japan account most of the planned units. In Asia (China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) nuclear-generated electricity is projected to grow 3.4 percent through 2015. This will account for 70 percent of the projected new nuclear capacity worldwide. Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration

The Clinton Administration's "Mixed Signals" on Nuclear Energy

  • In correspondence sent in April 1997 to an interested citizen, Vice President Al Gore stated, "this Administration is opposed to increased reliance on nuclear power."
  • On Sept. 15, 1997, the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy released a report ("Scenarios of U.S. Carbon Reductions") that states, "Nuclear power is a carbon-free source of electricity. Retaining as much as possible of its current power generation would therefore be an important carbon mitigation strategy … An effort to maintain the viability of this capacity could result in a very large contribution to carbon reductions over the next quarter century."
  • On Oct. 28, 1998, Reuters reported that Stuart Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business & Agricultural Affairs, and one of the key U.S. negotiators during the 1997 global climate change conference in Japan, said in a speech to environmentalists, "I believe firmly that nuclear has to be a significant part of our energy future and a large part of the western world, if we're going to meet these [emission reduction] targets ... Those who think we can accomplish these goals without a significant nuclear industry, I think are simply mistaken."

What Policymakers are Saying About Nuclear Energy

  • "There is at present a glaring credibility gap between the declared public determination to limit the global emissions of greenhouse gases linked to fossil fuel burning and the means currently suggested to achieve this—namely, energy savings and an expanded use of renewable sources of energy. It seems curious that in a debate that deals with the future health of the planet, a significant possible remedy is simply ignored by reference to public opinion, without any serious examination of whether that opinion is justified."—Hans Blix, former Director General at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
  • "The peaceful use of nuclear power is essential to cope with global warming and the nation's resource weak energy position. The government will promote the peaceful use of nuclear power, based on a thorough assurance of safety and the understanding of the people, obtained through active efforts to make nuclear related information available to the public."—Ryutaro Hashimoto, prime minister of Japan.
  • "Nuclear energy accounts for 89 percent of all CO2 emissions avoided by U.S. electric utilities between 1973 and 1995. In the face of growing concern over the potential effects of emissions to the global climate, it would be prudent to ensure that, at a minimum, our existing emission-free generation sources have a fair chance to compete, and that competition does not degrade our nation's air quality."—U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski.

Nuclear Energy Must Remain Important Part of World's Energy Mix

  • "If the Clinton administration is serious about combating global warming, nuclear power is the answer."—Hans Bethe, Nobel Laureate in physics, Cornell University.
  • "Although technological innovation may eventually provide non-polluting alternatives, at present only nuclear power is a cost-effective, non-fossil source of electricity. It is therefore vital that the United States, in particular, and all developed countries, emphasize nuclear power in meeting electric power needs, and to the extent possible, substitute uranium for fossil fuel. It is equally critical that, as aging nuclear facilities are taken out of commission, replacement generation be nuclear and not fossil fuel."—Global Foundation white paper, October 1997.
  • "Given their (the Clinton Administration's) intense concerns about the effects of fossil fuel emissions on global warming, however, a program to bring about a new generation of clean burning nuclear power for the 21st Century may be the only hope for containing—to say nothing of reducing—greenhouse gases without savaging the American economy."—The Center for Security Policy.
  • "Many people inside and outside the environmental community believe nuclear power deserves another look."—Harvard Professor John Holdren, a member of President Clinton's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at