Nuclear energy and climate change
Olkiluoto nuclear power plant, Finland

Governments around the world are urgently seeking to rapidly decarbonise their economies whilst ensuring the security of energy supply. As a low-carbon electricity source, nuclear energy can contribute to clean energy capacity and emissions reductions between 2020 and 2050. While the potential exists for nuclear energy to play a much larger role in global climate change mitigation efforts, various enabling conditions must be met for this technology to fulfil its potential. Targeted policies, sustained investment and international co-operation are needed to reduce project costs, improve deployment timelines, build public confidence, and address financial barriers.

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NEA work on this topic

The NEA has been actively working on the topic of nuclear energy and climate change for over a decade. It is featured in a wide range of NEA publications and reports that provide analysis and advice for policymakers and the energy industry.

The latest NEA analysis of over 90 pathways to net-zero emissions considered by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveals that to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C, installed nuclear energy capacity must triple to 1,160 gigawatts by 2050. NEA analysis shows that it can be achieved through a combination of long-term operations, large-scale Generation III nuclear new builds and a wave of near-term and medium-term nuclear innovation, such as advanced (Generation IV) and small modular reactors (SMRs)

Full potential of nuclear contributions to net-zero-01 

In addition to electricity production, the nuclear energy sector can support future climate change mitigation through hybrid energy systems and applications including sector coupling, combined heat and power (cogeneration) for heavy industry and resource extraction, hydrogen and synthetic fuel production, desalination, and off-grid applications.

NEA video explains how nuclear energy can contribute to global decarbonisation objectives set by the Paris Agreement