Should Renewable Energy Include Nuclear?

By Lily Riahi; Lisa Desai Contributors | The Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2009 | Go to article overview

Should Renewable Energy Include Nuclear?


Lily Riahi; Lisa Desai Contributors, The Christian Science Monitor


A new global effort that aims to make renewable energy more accessible to every country in the world will launch on July 1st.

Governments are lining up to join the first agency that will advise them on how to make a renewable energy transition. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has attracted 108 countries, including the United States and China, which are both expected to announce their membership this week, in a move that experts say could boost the agency's credibility, since both countries are leaders in renewable energy.

But supporters worry that IRENA could be undermined by countries that are trying to promote nuclear power as a solution to climate change and dwindling oil reserves. Today, members will meet in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt to vote on a director general for the group and decide which country will host the agency's headquarters.

Currently, a leading alliance between France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is forming. French ministerial official Helene Pelosse is a nominee for IRENA'S director general and the UAE is lobbying to host its headquarters in Abu Dhabi. IRENA advocates say if the alliance succeeds, the agency would become "nuclear tainted."

France pushes nuclear as 'low-carbon technology'

France generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. It's also one of the world's largest providers of nuclear technology and expertise. Since 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has signed multibillion-dollar nuclear deals with the UAE, Qatar, Algeria, Libya, and Morocco.

At the same time, France is promoting nuclear as a form of renewable power because it emits low levels of carbon dioxide. When the European Union defined its long-term target for renewable energy production last year, it tried to include nuclear power in the definition of renewable energy, a move that was rejected by EU members.

France is also advocating to power the Mediterranean region using "low-carbon technology." IRENA supporters worry that under French leadership, the agency will support both renewables and nuclear options together.

Most discussions separate the two because renewable energy is defined as naturally replenishing resources, like solar or wind, which don't produce waste. Nuclear power is dependent on finite uranium resources, and produces radioactive waste that has to be isolated and stored for thousands of years.

"Advocates of nuclear try to avoid these essential differences by linking these two forms of energy under the umbrella term 'low- carbon technology,'" says Dr. Doerte Fouquet, Director of the European Renewable Energy Federation. "People forget that emitting zero CO2 is only one of the characteristics that defines a renewable source of energy. …

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