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Nuclear Energy’s Clean Air Benefits Gain Added Recognition Among Delegates at UN Global Warming Talks

BONN—Nuclear energy's clean air benefits gained added attention at a United Nations global warming conference here this week, both in a presentation to one of the conference's top officials by the international business community, and in a symposium in which experts explained how nuclear technology can contribute to the "flexibility mechanisms" that nations will use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The growing recognition that nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, came during the international negotiating sessions being conducted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. U.N. "subsidiary bodies" on June 2nd began two weeks of meetings here as a followup to last December's global climate change conference in Kyoto, Japan. At that event, the Administration agreed to reduce U.S. emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

The nuclear energy industry's efforts to heighten awareness of its clean air benefits among the international delegates meeting here bore fruit on Tuesday when representatives of business non-governmental organizations (NGOs) met with Ambassador Bakary Kante, chairman of the Convention's Subsidiary Body for Implementation. Speaking on behalf of a diverse constituency of business organizations, the representatives for the first time embraced "avoidances" of greenhouse gases as a key component of flexibility mechanisms and explicitly identified nuclear power as a non-emitting technology.

"Flexible mechanism programs should give special consideration or recognition to non-emitting technologies, such as renewables, nuclear energy and hydroelectric power," stated a seven-point discussion paper presented to Kante by the business organization representatives.

"This is a breakthrough for the nuclear energy industry," said Maureen Koetz, director of environmental policy for the Nuclear Energy Institute. "Advanced technologies like nuclear energy that create emission avoidances have been recognized as an important part of flexibility mechanism. As the numbers make clear, the many thousands of tons of carbon avoided by using nuclear electricity must be considered as part of the flexibility mechanisms if the Kyoto targets are to be achieved."

At a symposium organized by the international nuclear industry, experts from the United States, Canada and Germany explained to conference attendees how nuclear energy technology can be part of flexibility mechanisms. The Kyoto protocol provides for the establishment of three mechanisms—joint implementation, emissions trading and the clean development mechanism—that nations can use to fulfill their commitments to reduce emissions.

"One of the most cost-effective methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is already functioning globally through nuclear energy," said Murray Stewart, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Nuclear Association.

Citing exports of Canadian nuclear energy technology to China, Korea and Romania, Stewart said, "With respect to the Kyoto Protocol, the projects with Korea and China could fall under the clean development mechanism, and the project with Romania could fall under joint implementation."

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 air-borne particulates has been underestimated, and he cited the technology's impact 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.

William Fang, deputy general counsel at the Edison Electric Institute, presented the findings of an EEI study on the cost of the sulfur dioxide program, and discussed its implications for efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. "Carbon dioxide is not like sulfur dioxide in that there is not a readily available technology for 'scrubbing' it. Absence of nuclear carbon savings would compound the nation's ability to achieve its Kyoto clean air goals, Fang said.

Nuclear power provides 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs. Along with hydropower, it is the only large-scale electricity source that does not emit carbon dioxide and other polluting particulates into the atmosphere.


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